Daniel Newhauser, Roll Call, April 18, 2011
Ten years ago last week, more than 100 black Capitol Police officers marched into the John Adams Building, held hands, prayed together and filed what would become one of the largest discrimination complaints in the history of Congress.
The grievance, filed first with the Office of Compliance then taken to court that fall, was that more than 200 black officers were denied promotions, retaliated against and unfairly disciplined or fired, all on the basis of their race.
The Capitol, they charged in the complaint, was a “modern-day version of a 19th-century Southern plantation in law enforcement.”
A decade later, Blackmon-Malloy v. U.S. Capitol Police Board has yet to be resolved and the latest proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia center not on the merits of the claims, but which plaintiffs even have the right to bring them. Defense lawyers have spent the better part of the decade whittling down the number of plaintiffs. Meanwhile, 17 have died.
“We knew it would be a lengthy time period,” said retired Capitol Police Lt. Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, the lead plaintiff in the case, who has attended all but one court hearing over the past decade. “But we didn’t expect that it would be ongoing 10 years.”
Instead of celebrating the case as a catalyst for change, on Tuesday, Blackmon-Malloy and several black officers will unveil new racial discrimination charges and lodge a complaint with the D.C. Bar against a Capitol Police attorney.
Wholesale institutional discrimination against black officers prevented them from advancing in their careers, they say.
On April 12, 2001, Blackmon-Malloy and more than 100 other officers made their protest march to the Office of Compliance to file their complaint under the Congressional Accountability Act, the measure that provides Congressional employees protection under 11 federal labor laws covering civil rights, fair employment and discrimination.
But the OOC mediation was fruitless and the case was filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C. in October 2001. By that time, the case had grown to include more than 300 plaintiffs.
They were asking for $100 million in compensation, the creation of a temporary oversight board to monitor issues of discrimination and retaliation protection.
Capitol Police Chief Philip Morse said in a statement that he will soon hire a diversity officer to replace one who left the department last year. He said that he is “committed to the continued improvement of the Department’s workforce diversity,” particularly through a more diverse development pool.
But the plaintiffs claim that while what they viewed to be the overt racism of the past has lessened and more black officers are being promoted to sergeants and lieutenants, the upper echelons of leadership are still predominantly white.
Five of the top 34 officers ranked captain or higher are black, and none is a black woman, they say.
At a press conference Tuesday, many of the black officers from the original case will unveil a new complaint against Frederick Herrera, a Capitol Police employment attorney. That claim will be added to more than a dozen spinoff retaliation cases after the Blackmon-Malloy filing.
They say Herrera willingly frustrated mediation efforts and participated in counseling sessions with employees who listed him specifically as the aggressor in discrimination claims.