Minority officer alleges racial discrimination in SBPD

Published: Apr. 13, 2016 at 5:45 PM EDT
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The South Bend Police Department is accused of racial discrimination and retaliation by one of its African American officers.

Sgt. Nathan Cannon has served more than 30 years on the force, 20 of which he served as a sergeant. But Cannon claims less qualified, non-minority officers were chosen for promotions ahead of him, and he’s blaming racial discrimination.

An attorney for Cannon says they tried to remedy the situation outside of the courtroom, but after making no progress, they filed a complaint in court alleging employment discrimination and retaliation. In it, the City of South Bend, the South Bend Police Department, former police chief Ron Teachman and current Chief of Police Scott Ruszkowski, were all named as defendants.

The action is being brought under the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Civil Service Reform Act, which protects so-called “whistleblowers.”

According to the complaint, Sgt. Cannon is seeking court action to require the police department to either remove or discipline managers who failed to practice equal hiring or factored race into promotions, additionally, Cannon is seeking additional training within the department to identify, investigate and stop further discrimination.

In 2014, Cannon first filed a complaint with the South Bend Human Rights Commission, alleging racial discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) investigated for more than 180 days and sided with Cannon, issuing him a “Right to Sue Letter.” So he filed suit:

Defendants, TEACHMAN, THE CITY, AND THE DEPARTMENT through his/its agents, discriminated against Plaintiff in terms and conditions of employment and promotions. Cannon alleges the City of South Bend and its police department have a “long history of denying promotions” to qualified African American officers, as well as a “long history of disparate treatment” when it came to denying promotions to qualified African American officers. The case references a 2014 promotional choice in which three, non-minority, officers were promoted from the rank of sergeant to the rank of lieutenant. Cannon claims he did not apply because another lieutenant was already seeking a “lateral” transfer to that shift, alleging the “ordinary custom” was to grant lateral transfers before promotions. Further, the discrimination complaint alleges it was not known that the department would be hiring for two additional lieutenant positions. One of which, was appointed to a newly created position, the leader of the “Gang Violence Intervention Unit.” Cannon claims he has more seniority than the officer appointed to that lieutenant position, and has “vastly superior experience in Gang Violence Intervention.” As a member of a protected group based on Race, Cannon argues in his complaint that the department and its highest officers “discriminated and continue to discriminate” in the terms and conditions of his employment based on his race. Secondly, Cannon alleges retaliation in his complaint, arguing he was denied opportunities for employment after he opposed the police department’s hiring and promoting practices. The complaint seeks injunctive action to stop any alleged discriminatory practices, including the monitoring of EEO compliance. Cannon also seeks an order retroactively establishing to the rank of Lieutenant “to which he was entitled by virtue of his seniority, experience, work history and qualifications,” and damages for lost compensation. The City of South Bend declined to comment because the case is ongoing.