Black Officers Revive Discrimination Suit
Under conditions provided by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan when he dismissed the case in September 2004, 26 current and former black officers have refiled a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Capitol Police.
Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, the lead plaintiff in the original case, and Charles Day Jr., an attorney for the officers, led a press conference Thursday to announce the January filing.
In the original lawsuit, more than 350 current and retired Capitol Police officers alleged that the agency denied promotions to, retaliated against, unfairly disciplined or fired black officers.
The suit was filed under the Congressional Accountability Act more than three years ago, but Sullivan dismissed the case last fall citing failure by some plaintiffs to complete required counseling and mediation before submitting their suit. At that time, Sullivan said the plaintiffs could refile their complaints if they could provide documentation of “the allegedly discriminatory act” as well as subsequent counseling and mediation requests, including proof of attendance.
“At this juncture, it appears to this Court that only employees who have completed counseling and mediation have a right of action under the CAA,” Sullivan wrote.
After Sullivan extended the refiling deadline twice, once in October and again in December, 24 current and two retired officers relaunched their case Jan. 14.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs also have submitted in their filing 84 exhibits as evidence, including 72 sworn declarations by some 50 fellow officers.
“A lot of people had what otherwise would be good claims, but they were technically deficient under the criteria that the judge laid down,” Day said Thursday. “If this were a Title VII case we might have a class of 260 people right now, but because these officers are employed by the U.S. Congress they don’t get the same procedural treatment.”
In May, the U.S. attorney’s office, which represents the Capitol Police, argued that only a handful of the original 350 plaintiffs — six to eight officers — had completed the necessary administrative steps and were eligible to pursue a lawsuit in federal court.
Along with Blackmon-Malloy, several current and retired officers also were present at Thursday’s press conference to speak about discriminatory acts they’ve faced while on the force. While noting that under Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer there have been more promotions of black officers than in any other time in the force’s history, Blackmon-Malloy said she was frustrated by the progress of this case.
“It kind of feels like we’re starting all over again,” she said, but added that black officers must continue to hold white officers accountable “despite the adversities put in front of us.”
The U.S. attorney’s office has until March 22 to respond to the refiling, and Sullivan is expected to give his reply in late April.
“We expect that [the U.S. attorney] will continue to not give an inch,” Day said. “It’s already been four years since these officers originally filed their complaint and we’re still in the the preliminary stages. … This lawsuit is far from over, this lawsuit is just beginning.”
Officer Michael Lauer, a Capitol Police spokesman, said: “This has been a lawsuit pending since August 2001, which is still ongoing and the department has not seen any new information and we’re working with the plaintiffs and their attorneys to reach a resolution.”
Gainer, meanwhile, said the Capitol Police is committed to diversity.
“Today we are a stronger, better organization in many ways including in our diversity. I look forward to working with any officer or group of officers to resolve any issues,” Gainer said.