White male troopers win bias settlement

April 06, 1995|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

$TC The Maryland State Police yesterday agreed to promote and pay back wages to a group of white, male officers passed over in favor of minorities who had scored lower on promotional exams.

The settlement, which resolves two federal reverse discrimination suits, requires the agency to pay $243,000 in back pay to 99 officers, promote 17 of them, and pay another $55,000 in attorney fees.

But because the promotions and back pay are part of a settlement, rather than a judge's ruling, the impact is unclear. The settlement does not require the agency -- where women and minorities make up 27 percent of the force -- to change promotion policies.

Members of the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers predicted that the settlement will not affect the agency's affirmative action efforts. The superintendent of the state police said only that he will review promotion policies.

But Michael Marshall, a Baltimore lawyer who represented the white officers, said, "I think it sends a very clear message that when you're promoting and hiring people, you choose the person who's best qualified.

"When you're just promoting minorities and promoting simply because they're minorities, that's wrong."

The settlement comes amid similar challenges in other cities.

In Chicago, where several police officers were promoted for the sake of diversity, a judge ruled recently that the city had changed its rules of promotion and blocked the officers from training classes. And in Grand Rapids, Mich., eight officers won $2.2 million last fall after suing for reverse discrimination, saying they lost promotions when the department revised testing policies.

The Maryland settlement comes as the state police deal with several sexual harassment suits filed by officers, and a U.S. Justice Department investigation into alleged harassment throughout the agency.

Both reverse discrimination lawsuits brought by the white male officers challenged how the state police selected candidates for promotion to corporal, sergeant and first sergeant after exams in 1988 and 1990. The plaintiffs filed class-action suits in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, saying they were discriminated against because race and gender were the sole criteria in promotions.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the agency in 1992, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, and sent the cases back for reconsideration.

In settlement papers, the state police said their affirmative action steps never encroached on the white officers' constitutional rights. The agency settled the suits to avoid the risks of further litigation and "move forward without the distraction of demoralizing effects" of the suits, the papers said.

"This allows both sides to go forward more productively," said Assistant Attorney General Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, who represented the state police.

Lt. Vernon Herron, president of the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers, said the settlement should not deter affirmative action. "The superintendent still has the right to promote from a list of candidates who are eligible to be promoted."

Asked if race and gender would be factors in making future promotions, Superintendent David B. Mitchell said he is creating a group to look at the department's policy.

"I can't say what the new promotional policy will be," he said. "But I think it's critically important that when the people of Maryland look at this law enforcement agency, they're looking in the mirror."

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