A federal jury awarded $620,000 to a white police sergeant in his race discrimination lawsuit against the St. Louis Police Department, the Police Board of Commissioners, and other city officials. According to an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sergeant David Bonenberger applied for an assistant director position at the police academy, but was not even interviewed for the post because of race. While race discrimination against white employees may be less common than other forms, this so-called “reverse discrimination” is still an unlawful employment practice.
The St. Louis Case
In this case, Sgt. Bonenberger was interested in an open leadership position at the police academy. However, the academy director told Sgt. Bonenberger that he should not even bother to apply for the post, because the job was going to be awarded to a black woman. According to Sgt. Bonenberger’s suit, the academy director said that a superior had told him to “bring color down to the academy.”
Sgt. Bonenberger applied for the police academy position. However, despite his numerous instructor certifications and experience as an instructor and trainer, Sgt. Bonenberger was not even called for an interview. The assistant director position instead went to a black female police sergeant. In Sgt. Bonenberger’s race discrimination lawsuit, the federal jury determined that he was indeed a victim of racial discrimination and awarded $200,000 in actual damages and $420,000 in punitive damages to punish the defendants for committing intentional racial discrimination and for conspiring to commit discrimination.
“Reverse Discrimination” in Washington State
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. Federal employment laws also prohibit racial discrimination in the workplace. These protections apply to all employees, regardless of what race they are. An employer who discriminates against a white employee has committed unlawful racial discrimination just as much as an employer who discriminates against employees of any other race.
While it is perhaps less common to see race discrimination against white employees, that does not make it any less unlawful. The term “reverse discrimination” is often used in these kinds of cases, but that term is misleading. Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of who the victim is. The only possible exception that might apply in “reverse discrimination” cases is if the employer has a bona fide affirmative action plan that was put in place because of a longstanding history of discrimination against minorities. However, this exception applies very rarely these days. Without an affirmative action plan, an employer who passes over a white employee simply because of race could be liable in a race discrimination lawsuit, as this St. Louis case illustrates.
Race discrimination in the workplace can take many forms and can affect any employee. If you would like to learn more about this topic, contact an employment lawyer for information.