Two former University Police officers have filed discrimination complaints against the University Police Department, alleging mistreatment based on their race.
The officers, both men in their mid-20s, filed complaints through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – a D.C. agency that seeks to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace – alleging UPD supervisors, including Interim Police Chief James Isom, discriminated against them.
University spokeswoman Candace Smith said it is University policy not to comment on personnel matters, but added that GW is taking the complaints seriously and is “looking into the matter.”
Isom did not respond to requests for comment.
The first officer, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, filed a complaint July 7 naming Isom, who is black, as the principal supervisor in the alleged discrimination. The officer was employed by the University from March until he resigned in July. He is Indian-American.
Throughout his time at UPD, the first officer said he was given the “38” patrol, in which he had to check various residential halls on campus and walk the equivalent of about six miles per shift. He said he noticed he would get the “38” patrol one to three times a week – more than other officers – and said that the post is often referred to as the “ethnic post or African post” by other officers.
In addition, the officer – a 2005 graduate of GW – said he requested a three-week leave of absence to take the bar exam. He said Isom denied his request, though another Caucasian officer who had been hired after him was allegedly given similar leave for a different exam.
“Basically I was in a position where I had to choose between the bar exam and work, and obviously I’m going to choose the bar exam. So I resigned from work and I filed this complaint,” he said. He also said Isom failed to inform him that under the department’s standard operating procedure, officers could only request 10 days off.
“Nine officers have resigned or been fired in the past three, four months, that’s a huge turnover,” the first officer said, adding that under Isom’s policies, he believes, “everyone just gets a different answer based on who they are.”
The second complainant, who is white, was a special police officer at GW. He worked for UPD from March 2009, until he resigned August of this year, and also requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
In a Hatchet interview, the officer said black supervisors mistreated him on multiple occasions. Last September, he said he lowered an American flag later than he was supposed to, and a black sergeant publicly and verbally berated him behind UPD headquarters and blew cigarette smoke in his face.
In a separate alleged incident in May, the complainant said he was denied union representation after being brought in for questioning for allegedly calling the same sergeant a liar.
“We’re part of a union, so whenever there’s any kind of questioning, we have the right to bring the union rep,” he said.
The officer said he was then taken to Isom’s office for further questioning about the accusation, where he again asked for a union representative, but was denied.
“Then they suspended me because I wouldn’t cooperate with their investigation, even though I was just asking for a union rep there,” the second officer said. He said he was eventually suspended for a total of three weeks “without any justification or reasoning from the University.”
During his suspension, he said representatives from human resources refused to speak with him, telling him to go to the University’s lawyer, “who already told me if I didn’t quit, he was going to make sure I never got another job. So I really had no place to go, so that’s when I started filing the charges.” He declined to specify which lawyer made the threat.
He filed charges with the EEOC June 29, as well as with the National Labor Relations Board. An Aug. 5 mediation between the EEOC and the University returned no results, the officer said, and is once again being looked into by an EEOC investigator.
An EEOC can conduct an investigation of alleged racial discrimination cases, and can issue a right to sue letter – which determines whether an employee has a legitimate case to bring to court. These investigations can take up to two years, the officer said. At any time, the complainant can ask that the investigation be stopped, and the complainant can try to prove the discrimination in court without a right to sue document.
During his suspension the complainant hired a lawyer, and a settlement with GW wasn’t reached. He said he has a new lawyer who will also try to settle, but said he is willing to go to court.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: (August 28, 2010)
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that one of the former University Police Department officers was a graduate of the GW Law School. This is incorrect. The student attended GW as an undergraduate and received his degree in law from Suffolk University.