Four former and current black police officers in Annapolis have filed suit in federal court against the city. The officers claiming they were discriminated against because they are black and, as a result, were turned down for promotions and opportunities to advance.
These kinds of cases are so hard to prove even when they are true. Two of the officers argue disparate treatment which means while the City of Annapolis might use facially neutral employment practices, they have had an unjustified adverse impact on these black officers. In other words, maybe it was not intentional discrimination, but it is.
The Baltimore Sun reports that the city has 26 black officers on its 117-member force, which sounds reasonable. But that does not mean there was no discrimination. You just can’t read a story like this and know what happened.
A federal lawsuit alleging discrimination against African-American police officers by the City of Annapolis ended with a whimper with the decision upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The appeal sought to overturn a previous ruling in favor of the city by the U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of former officers Carl Bouie and Floyd Carson, the late Shelley White, and current officer James Spearman.
The initial complaint alleged that white officers faced little or no sanctions for improper conduct, while African-American officers were frequently subjected to harsh penalties for minor incidents. The lawsuit also claimed that African-American officers were overlooked for promotions. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz issued a summary judgment stating that the city had provided sufficient evidence to avoid going to trial. The district court found that Thomas was unable to prove his prima facie case of retaliation, as he could not demonstrate a causal link between the adverse employment actions taken against him (being placed on leave without pay and later terminated) and his filing of employment discrimination charges. The court acknowledged the 20-day gap between Thomas’s filing of charges with the EEOC and Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and the City placing him on leave without pay. However, the court determined that this close temporal proximity did not establish a causal connection, because the date Thomas went on unpaid leave had been administratively predetermined well before he filed the employment discrimination charges and dismissed the lawsuit.
4th Circuit Affirms
The 4th Circuit agreed on appeal. Judge Motz had ruled the plaintiffs either failed to exhaust their claims or were unable to establish all the necessary elements for their claims. In the appeal, White and Bouie raised general challenges to the district court’s determinative holdings. However, the appeals court considered these challenges insufficient to question the correctness of the district court’s rulings.
The appeals court determined that White’s and Bouie’s failure to adequately challenge the district court’s dispositive holdings on appeal amounted to a waiver of appellate review over those holdings. As a result, the court ruled that White and Bouie effectively waived their right to have the appellate court review the district court’s holdings.
In Appeal No. 15-2124, Spearman proceeded without legal representation (pro se). Consequently, the court granted his informal brief a liberal construction to avoid any inequity. The court carefully considered Spearman’s arguments and reviewed the district court record. Nevertheless, the court found no reversible error in the district court’s decision to grant the City of Annapolis summary judgment on Spearman’s claims.
In conclusion, the appeals court affirmed the district court’s order granting the City of Annapolis summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims. The court dispensed with oral argument, as they deemed the facts and legal contentions adequately presented in the materials before the court, and further argument would not aid the decision-making process.