Mpls. Pays Settlement to Black Officers in Bias Suit

David Chanen, Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 11, 2009

The city of Minneapolis agreed Friday to pay five high-ranking black officers $740,000 to settle a lawsuit they filed in 2007, alleging racial discrimination and a hostile working environment.

Lt. Don Harris, Lt. Medaria Arradondo and Sgt. Charlie Adams each will receive $187,000, Lt. Lee Edwards $137,000, and Sgt. Dennis Hamilton $40,000.

The settlement, which includes the plaintiffs’ legal fees, does not mandate that the city change any policies or practices.

“The amount of the settlement is extremely significant in race discrimination [cases] in the state, especially against a public entity,” John Klassen and Andrew Muller, attorneys for the plaintiffs, said in a joint statement. “The Police Department hasn’t [ever] paid this amount in an employment discrimination case, to our knowledge.”

The five officers sued the city and police Chief Tim Dolan in December 2007, alleging a history of discrimination in the department and asserting that it became more institutionalized after Dolan became chief. The five had an average length of service of 20 years.

The suit focused on three personnel moves by Dolan: the reassignment of Harris and Edwards to lower positions, and the transfer of Adams from the homicide unit. The city already has paid Adams an $85,000 settlement over comments Dolan made after the transfer.

Last summer, the Minneapolis City Council rejected a $2 million settlement offer. Friday, the council voted 12-1 to approve the $740,000 settlement. Lisa Goodman voted no. A trial had been set for March 2010.

Labeled ‘disgruntled cops’

“Our settlement doesn’t acknowledge any discrimination, but we want to put these allegations behind us,” said council President Barb Johnson. “The Police Department has already made changes to address some of the issues raised and will continue to work to improve the climate. We were happy to move forward.”

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The department had only one officer of color with a rank higher than lieutenant when the suit was filed, but Dolan has since promoted two more. About 18 percent in the department are officers of color.

The suit claimed that black officers received fewer opportunities for training, special duty and overtime, as well as fewer appointments to key units. It also claimed that the department had failed in several areas of diversity required by a mediation agreement reached with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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While several white homicide officers got more than 150 hours overtime during the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, no one informed Adams of that opportunity until the last days of the detail, the suit said. The department fired Hamilton for infractions that didn’t get white officers fired, the suit said.

The department demoted Edwards, former head of the homicide unit and an inspector, after accusing him of driving a department vehicle intoxicated and making offensive comments to subordinates. But the suit said the department then replaced Edwards temporarily with a white lieutenant with a lengthy history of civil rights violations.

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