Last week, three police officers in Everett, Washington, filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in Everett’s police department. The three officers’ lawsuit against the police department was filed in federal court, and claims the officers were denied promotions, received harsher treatment than Caucasian officers, and dealt with a hostile work environment because of their race. According to Komonews.com, the officers have over 60 years of combined experience in the police department and, despite being considered “most qualified” for promotions, were frequently passed over for promotions. Furthermore, the officers believe they were retaliated against when they complained about this treatment. The city says that each of the officers’ claims was investigated and found to be without merit prior to the lawsuit. As such, the city plans to fight the lawsuit.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination, employers are prohibited on the federal and state level from discriminating against an individual based solely on the individual’s race in any aspect of employment from hiring, to firing, to promotions and pay. Both of these laws also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, color, national origin, and religion.
The broadness of these laws is meant to encourage employers to judge and treat employees based on their skills, experience, and conduct. The fact that the federal law is now 50 years old should mean that employers have significant experience in training and avoiding these discriminatory practices, but even today there are still some, employers and employees alike, who have a misstep.
Historically, race discrimination claims have arisen from unequal treatment of African-Americans and women, which is why federal employment protection is found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Incidentally, the news story notes that the officers claim that their captain, who was sued by and lost to an African-American woman 20 years earlier for discrimination, was instrumental in creating the hostile environment in the department. However, this case illustrates that discrimination can occur with other groups since the three officers involved are male and each identifies with a different racial group: Native American, Hispanic, and Asian-American.
If the officers can show that Caucasian and African-American officers were treated more favorably than they were, it would not matter that the three officers are of different races, as they each suffered the same unfavorable treatment as compared to Caucasian and African-American officers. The reason is because the court looks to see if there is a pattern or evidence that an individual, or each of these individuals, was treated differently than other “more favored” groups for no reason beyond race.
Even though these discriminatory practices can occur unintentionally, the effects are the same. If you have been discriminated against in your employment, contact an HKM employment law attorney in Washington for help.