Recently, on the eve of a federal trial, the City of Inglewood entered into an agreement with one of its white police officers to settle his reverse race discrimination lawsuit. The value of that settlement, roughly $400,000.00, stands as a stark reminder to public entities throughout our state that all police officers are the same color, blue, and should be treated accordingly—without regard to race or color.
This case involves Officer Pete Friesen, who has worked for the City of Inglewood since 1989. Friesen is a well-respected, veteran cop who began his law-enforcement career as an Inglewood police cadet. He has always made it a point to treat the citizens of Inglewood fairly and believed that his Department should do the same for its officers. A few years ago, the idea of suing his own police department in federal court would have been as foreign to Officer Friesen as judging others by the color of their skin. Unfortunately, suing his employer is exactly what he would end up being forced to do.
Friesen is a white police officer who was passed over for several promotions—first a promotion to Lieutenant in 2008, then Sergeant in 2009, and finally Acting Sergeant in 2010. Because non-white officers were being given all of the promotional positions for which Friesen applied, regardless of Friesen’s excellent qualifications, it became apparent that Friesen had fallen victim to race discrimination.
Unwilling to play the part of victim, Officer Friesen chose to push back by contacting his POA’s attorneys, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir. After reviewing the facts of his case, LDME readily agreed to represent him in pursuing a racial discrimination lawsuit against the City of Inglewood, Chief of Police Jacqueline Seabrooks, and Human Resources Director Mary Beth Allen for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Race Discrimination in Violation of the U.S. Constitution), violations of Title VII (Civil Rights Act of 1964), and for violations of the California Government Code (Fair Employment and Housing Act). Friesen’s lawsuit was filed in March of 2010. It alleged the following:
During the promotional examinations for both Lieutenant and Sergeant, Defendants manipulated the examination results so that non-white officers were promoted over Friesen. Remarkably, Defendants’ actually allowed non-white officers who failed the written portion of the examinations to continue forward with the promotional process.
At the conclusion of the promotional testing for Lieutenant, Friesen was placed dead last on the list of nine eligible candidates for promotion. Friesen would later discovery that he scored second-highest on the written portion of the exam. He would also learn that three of the non-white candidates, who had all failed the written exam, were ranked above him on the promotional list. This was accomplished by manipulating the examination results by applying a “curve” that allowed the three officers who failed the exam to continue in the promotional process.
After the City employed its “grading curve,” the three non-white officers who had failed the written examination were ranked as numbers five, six, and eight on the promotion list—all ahead of Pete Friesen, who scored second on the written exam. Indeed, Friesen was the only candidate on the promotion list not interviewed for promotion to Lieutenant.
About a year after the Lieutenant’s examination, Friesen tested for promotion to Sergeant along with twenty-five other applicants. Thirteen applicants, including Friesen, were ultimately placed on the promotional list. Friesen was ranked number nine on the list. Just as before, Friesen scored well on the written examination; and just as before, non-white promotional applicants who failed their written examinations were ranked ahead of Friesen. In fact, the two black officers who failed the written examination were promoted to Sergeant. Friesen would later be “decertified” from the Sergeant promotional list and denied promotion to Sergeant.
Incredibly, this story did not end there. After being denied promotion to Lieutenant and Sergeant, Friesen applied for an Acting Sergeant position. Along with Friesen, six other officers applied for the Acting Sergeant position—all six of which happened to be non-white. Chief Seabrooks promoted the six non-white officers to Acting Sergeant positions, and denied Friesen’s application.
Additional facts surfaced which strongly supported Friesen’s allegations of racial bias. For example, the City of Inglewood erected a large recruitment billboard that featured actual Inglewood Police Officers for the purpose of hiring new recruits. Friesen was troubled with the fact that the billboard depicted only “minority” officers. It failed to include even a single white officer, despite the fact that majority of police officers at Inglewood are white. It was obvious to Friesen that the City was targeting only minorities for hiring, to the exclusion of white officers. Friesen also alleged that the Chief of Police allowed someone she knew to be racist against whites to sit on a promotional panel for the Department.
After both parties completed the discovery phase of Friesen’s lawsuit, the Defendants’ filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Friesen could not prevail on his case as matter of law. As one federal circuit court has stated, “summary judgment is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events.” Of course, after reviewing the compelling evidence proffered by Friesen, the Court determined that Friesen’s case would proceed to jury trial.
In the wake of the City’s summary judgment loss, the City and Officer Friesen entered into a settlement agreement to the satisfaction of both parties. The estimated value of Friesen’s settlement exceeds $400,000.00—an expensive reminder to the City of Inglewood of its legal obligation to treat its employees of all race equally.
Officer Pete Friesen stood up for what is right. And now, after a long but worthwhile legal battle, he can turn the page on the inequities to which he was subjected and he can continue to pursue what will surely prove to be a long and successful law enforcement career.