13 Police Officers Sue San Francisco For Racial and Gender Discrimination

Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Twelve white police officers and a white lesbian former police officer are suing the state of San Francisco for cases involving gender and racial discrimination against white police officers applying for promotions. The argument is led by a lieutenant whose similar suit 16 years ago netted a $1.6 million settlement.

The case is alleging that the current selection process is discriminatory against white police officers. Specifically, it is accusing the test-scoring and “banding” method of the San Francisco police force to determine eligible applicants for promotion.

All thirteen officers are alleging that they were denied opportunities for promotions due to the current system unfairly favoring minorities such as people of color, women, and other minorities.

The lawsuit reported Wednesday was filed Tuesday at a federal court accusing the city of San Francisco, the Police Department, the Police Commission, Mayor London Breed, former Mayor Mark Farrell, Police Chief Bill Scott, and former Chief Greg Suhr.

The lead plaintiff, Lt. Ric Schiff is leveraging the latest discrimination case against San Francisco with a 2003 lawsuit that he also led in behalf of twelve sergeants who accused the police force of discriminating in favor of black candidates for lieutenant. Schiff was denied a promotion to captain in support of women and minority candidates with lower scores, the suit said.

The 2003 lawsuit was settled by the city for $1.6 million, giving $200,000 to Schiff, who was later promoted to lieutenant. However, the city did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Historical Context

The 2019 case, which is seemingly rooted from white privilege, stands on the basis of a 1979 settlement over a racial discrimination suit filed by the Black Police Officer’s Association.

In 1973, a group called the Officers for Justice with almost all members were black, filed a lawsuit against the SFPD alleging that it has engaged in a pattern of employment discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin.

“As the suit dragged through the courts, it picked up support from the National Organization for Women, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined the quit soon after it was filed, and the United States Department of Justice filed a separate action, which was merged with the original suit for trial,” reported in a 1979 article from The New York Times.

Consent Decree settled the lawsuit—a litigation remedy past discrimination cases—in 1979 declaring that the then rules and selection criteria for employment at the SFPD were illegal which included written examinations, minimum height requirements, and the strength test.

Moreover, the 1979 ruling included provisions such as: “Promotion policies will be changed to facilitate [the] movement of minority members and women into command positions” and “in recruiting women and minority members, the city must take advice from organizations that represent them and must advertise in media directed at these recruits.”

As a result, “the court upheld banding as a psychometrically sound procedure and [is] valid as a matter of constitutional and federal law,” cited from Test-Score Banding in Human Resource Selection by Herman Aguinis.

Banding allowed the SFPD to employ and promote individuals by ‘banding’ or grouping promotional test results so that all candidates who scored within a specific range were treated the same, allowing them to be judged on other factors such as experience and language skills.

However, with the current provision emphasizing on the prioritization of applicants from minority groups has left an unfair advantage against white police officers.

Aguinis in his book notes on banding says that “cases typically involve plaintiffs who sue because they believe testing is unfair either to a minority group or individuals. On occasion, majority-group members sue because they do not see an attempt to reduce [the] adverse impact as fair to majority-group applicants. It is an anomaly that banding is proposed as an alternative selection procedure that benefits minority plaintiffs, but in some cases, minority-group members actually object to banding and view it as discriminatory.”

“The city — to this day — has a long-standing practice and custom of discriminating against white males in SFPD promotions to the rank of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain,” M. Greg Mullanax, the officers’ attorney said in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, John Coté, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the Police Department “uses lawful, merit-based civil service examinations in making promotions.” The system, he said in a statement, is “designed to provide qualified individuals with the chance for advancement while ensuring fair treatment without regard to race, gender, religion, age or other status.”

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