Race Discrimination in the N.Y.P.D.
November 27, 2017
Isaac Graff, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq., and Chantal Guerriero
Race discrimination is not a practice that most people would like to believe still occurs in the workplace, but a recent class-action complaint against the New York City Police Department (“N.Y.P.D.”), brought in the District Court for the Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y.) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), alleges that this practice still occurs in even the most well-established organizations. The case alleges that beginning in 2001, the N.Y.P.D. engaged in a pattern of discrimination on the basis of race against several African American detectives who, despite having exemplary ratings and supervisor reviews, were continually denied promotions as a result of the N.Y.P.D.’s “secretive and standard-less” promotion policy.
Title VII makes it illegal for employers to engage in discrimination against their employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Prior to the filing of the suit in the S.D.N.Y., the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“E.E.O.C.”) assessed the discrimination claims brought by Jon Jason McCollum, Theodore Coleman, and Roland Stephens (“Claimants”) as required by Title VII.
The claimants were three highly ranked African American detectives Officers in the N.Y.P.D.’s Intelligence Division, and alleged that they were continually assigned to less desirable units, denied promotions, and paid less than Caucasian detectives who were less qualified than they were. Despite their successful careers, the three detectives remained Third Grade Detectives. One of the claimants was promoted to Second Grade Detective, but the N.Y.P.D. made it clear that this was only to quell the claimants’ complaints of discrimination.
The suit alleges that the N.Y.P.D. maintained an air of secrecy regarding the criteria used for its promotion policy. The claimants were not provided with any objective criteria taken into account to assess the merits of promotions. Thus, Caucasian detectives and supervisors were effectively given “unfettered discretion” to pick and promote detectives to higher grades. As a result, African American detectives were continually excluded from such promotions, despite their merits and positive evaluations from their supervisors. The N.Y.P.D. countered that their promotion system was fair and inclusive, and that their failure to promote certain African American detectives was a result of “unspecified individual circumstances.”
However, after examining seven years of promotions, the E.E.O.C. found that African American detectives worked in the intelligence division’s lower grade two years longer than did Caucasians, and that the difference could not be explained by experience or individual factors. In 2013 alone, two years after the claim was brought to the E.E.O.C., statistics revealed that the claimants’ Caucasian colleagues worked an average of six years before being promoted, while the African American colleagues and claimants worked an average of twelve years before being promoted. The E.E.O.C. determined further, that the N.Y.P.D.’s promotion system was a “wholly subjective and secret process [operating] without any structured guidelines.” To overcome the suit’s claim of discrimination, the N.Y.P.D. will have to prove that its promotion decisions were unbiased and fair, despite the above statistics.
The EEOC’s finding in this matter reaffirms the requirement that employers implement transparent and objective policies that both justify the employer’s reasoning for promotions and notify employees looking to be promoted of the criteria that they need to achieve in order to be promoted. Employers cannot hide behind vagaries as to their promotional criteria in order to support their claim that their practice was non-discriminatory in the face of statistical evidence to the contrary. In both New York and New Jersey, Title VII, as well as the New York City Human Rights Law and New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, provide employees with avenues to pursue claims against employers whose promotional policies, or lack thereof, effectively discriminate against them.
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