Federal judge dismisses reverse discrimination lawsuits filed by 3 white men in law enforcement

Michael Caldwell, Robert Hahn and Michael McCormick filed separate federal lawsuits last year claiming their employer’s diversity initiative was designed “to displace white men at all levels of the MSP with minorities and women. “.

However, District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker for the Western District of Michigan said in the layoffs filed Monday that Caldwell, Hahn and McCormick did not provide direct evidence of racial or gender discrimination by the MSP and of its director, Colonel Joseph Gasper.

The MSP, like other law enforcement agencies across the country, has attempted to address complaints about systemic racism and the lack of diversity in all ranks by increasing cultural competency training and initiatives for promote and recruit more people of color. Still, some white officers in San Francisco and New London, Connecticut, have backed down by filing a complaint and legal action in response, citing bias.

The judge in the Michigan ruling went on to say that Caldwell and Hahn had failed to “demonstrate that the reasons underlying their respective disciplines were a pretext for unlawful racial and gender discrimination or that their discipline was retaliation for their complaints about the administration’s diversity policies “.

Caldwell and Hahn filed separate lawsuits, but the judge decided to adjudicate their cases together because their claims were similar.

The McCormick case was dismissed because he did not provide direct evidence of racial or gender discrimination, according to the judge. McCormick also applied for the commanding post in May 2019, but withdrew his candidacy before it could be considered. Judge said McCormick’s move dismantled his argument that he was dismissed for promotion “in favor of a racial minority because of discriminatory animosity and retaliation because of his race” and gender. .

Caldwell and Hahn were placed on administrative leave in March 2020 following an internal investigation which found they “had violated departmental policy on the promotion and selection process” when requesting a transfer from a subordinate was refused.

Caldwell was demoted from captain to inspector and retired in April. Hahn was fired as an inspector and McCormick remains employed by the MSP as a lieutenant, according to James Fett, counsel for the three plaintiffs.

Gasper was appointed director of the MSP in 2019 by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. One of his main priorities has been to diversify the agency, and he has been outspoken about the ministry’s need to improve the recruitment and promotion of minority officers.

Gasper’s diversity directive called for “reserving 25% of its posts for minorities and 20% for women in all ranks,” according to the lawsuits. (MSP described this claim as an “incorrect statement of fact” in a response to the lawsuits.)

In at least three directors’ meetings, Gasper reportedly “spoke at length” about the agency’s affirmative action and diversity initiatives, saying “the MSP was” far too white and far too masculine “.

Gasper said in a statement Tuesday that “there has never been or ever will be any employment, promotion, retention or other personnel practice decisions motivated by bias or based on discrimination. We are pleased with this finding and remain committed to supporting a work environment with equal opportunities for all of our members. ”

Fett told CNN on Wednesday that “we are very disappointed with the judge’s decision” and think “with all due respect, the judge was wrong and we are going to appeal.”

In 2019, a Detroit Free Press investigation into a violent traffic stop involving a black motorist called into question the culture of the department. Governor Whitmer expressed concern over the incident, which she described as “” very serious “” and praised Gasper’s emphasis on racial fairness and making sure the department reflects better the diversity of the state.

Reverse discrimination trials date back to the 1990s

As early as the early 1990s, reverse discrimination lawsuits were filed against law enforcement agencies across the country that have implemented affirmative action initiatives.
In 1995, 99 white male Maryland State Police settled a lawsuit based on allegations they were ignored for promotions to fellow minorities who had received lower marks. in promotion exams, according to the Baltimore Sun. During the same period, officers filed similar lawsuits in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois, with the judge ruling in their favor, the Sun reported.
Almost 20 years later, a St. Louis police officer was awarded nearly $ 800,000 in 2013 in a discrimination lawsuit, claiming that a position he sought was given to a black woman he believed to be less. qualified, according to a report from the St. Louis Dispatch. . And in 2019, 12 white male police officers in San Francisco sued the department for discrimination, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Officers who said they were ignored for promotions are suing the city for racial and gender discrimination. The trial is still pending. A 13th complainant, who was retired, said she was also denied a promotion because she was a white lesbian.

Fett, the Michigan police attorney who has advocated affirmative action cases and diversity programs in Michigan since 1993, says diversifying the MSP with more black men and women is next to impossible when there are not enough candidates.

CNN has contacted the MSP for further comment.

Michigan is about 74% white; 13.7% Black; about 5% Hispanic or Latino; 3% Asians as well as 0.6% American Indians and Alaska Native +, according to the US census.

In the total group of 1,900 MSP agents, there are 900 white men and 88 white women; 51 black men and seven black women; 20 Hispanic men and no Hispanic women; six Asian men and two Asian women and two Arab men; six Native American men, according to demographics from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards as of June 2020. Yet more than 800 MSP men and women did not report their race or ethnicity.

Fett told CNN that Gasper’s efforts “to match the demographics of the state with the demographics of its workforce and this is blatantly illegal and has been for years … it has been illegal now for in the past. less 1986 “.

Legal experts slam allegations of backwards racism

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office represented the MSP in the lawsuit, said the state’s diversity efforts are not illegal.

“These lawsuits were an attempt to undermine the MSP’s efforts to ensure that the force properly represents the communities it serves. This does not constitute discrimination – it is accountable community policing,” she said. .

Other jurists have long criticized prosecutions for “reverse discrimination”.

Historically, black police have continued their services by making “some of the same allegations” as Caldwell, Hahn and McCormick – however, these black police officers did in fact have hard evidence to support their claims, according to Delores Jones-Brown, a former prosecutor and professor emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Jones-Brown said Judge Jonker made the right decision in the case, adding that “making a legal claim does not mean you can support that claim”.

“This is a situation where allegations have been made and not only have they not substantiated those allegations, but there appears to be some evidence that actually contradicts the allegations they have made,” he said. she said, referring to the agency’s findings against Hahn and Caldwell as a result of the internal affairs investigation.

The police, as a profession, have been “riddled with a long history of anti-black discrimination” both internally and externally, Jones-Brown told CNN. As the nation tries to tackle the structural racism that has existed since the founding of the country, many white officers “find themselves in a position to take advantage of this moment in history,” she added.

“Making an allegation of reverse discrimination without substantiating that allegation, and there is evidence that you have issues that are not associated with your race, this is associated with your efficiency and effectiveness as a police officer, that confuses the public. ,” she said.

Over the years, the reluctance against “affirmative action has been that it creates an advantage for people of black racial identity and other minority status that the general public may think they don’t deserve,” he said. Jones-Brown said. But the affirmative action law explicitly says that blacks, Native Americans and other ethnic minority groups, whom “the law has intentionally wronged by racial exclusion, deserve to be privileged when qualified for jobs.”

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