White Cop Wins $620,000 in Racial Discrimination Lawsuit
A federal jury awarded $620,000 to a white St. Louis police officer who sued alleging discrimination by superiors who gave an open leadership post to a less qualified black officer.
Sgt. David Bonenberger thought he had a chance at his dream job when he learned the St. Louis Police Academy needed a new assistant director. But the top cop at the Police Academy, Lt. Michael Muxo, advised Bonenberger that a higher ranking officer, Lt. Col. Reggie Harris, ordered him to “bring color down to the academy.” Muxo told Bonenberger not to bother applying, because the position was going to a black woman.
Bonenberger applied anyway, but despite extensive experience with the Police Academy and numerous training certifications, he wasn’t even contacted for an interview. The position ultimately went to Sgt. Angela Taylor, who is black. Court documents say Taylor wasn’t interviewed, either.
The lawsuit named numerous defendants including the St. Louis Police Department, the Board of Police Commissioners, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Daniel Isom, chief of police at the time of Taylor’s hiring.
The jury awarded $200,000 in actual damages against all of the defendants, and added punitive damages of $300,000 against Harris, $100,000 against Muxo and $20,000 against Isom.
Law Doesn’t Recognize ‘Reverse’ Racism
The term “reverse racism” is commonly used to refer to racial discrimination against whites, but employment law attorney Donna Ballman warns that this distinction has no bearing on worker’s rights.
“Discrimination is discrimination,” said Ballman, author of “Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired.”
“When I advise white employees, I advise them the same as any other race, except they sometimes seem surprised that the law protects them,” Ballman said. “In a case like this, where the employee was told not to bother applying due to race, that’s direct evidence of discrimination, which makes the case even more clear. That’s helpful when you take the case to a judge or jury, who may also need convincing that the law makes all race discrimination illegal.”
Employment attorney Kelly Kolb agrees that juries can be “predisposed not to believe a white person can be the victim of discrimination, since whites have historically been the beneficiary of discrimination.”
Kolb said there was only one way for Harris to have legally orchestrated the deliberate hiring of minority candidates at the police academy.
“The exception is a bona fide affirmative action plan designed to remedy a demonstrated history of discriminatory practices which has caused a current disproportionate under-representation of minorities in the workplace, but the courts are increasingly skeptical of this defense given the gains in minority hiring.”
Law Has Its Limits
Kolb also warns that there’s a limit to how far anti-discrimination laws can be stretched to protect employees of specific races, citing as an example a recently dismissed discrimination case against celebrity chef Paula Deen.
“A white employee alleged that she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment because of Deen’s alleged negative comments about blacks,” Kolb said. “The court dismissed the claim, finding that the plaintiff had no standing to sue Deen for what she claims was poor treatment of black workers.”
Kolb noted that the court’s dismissal said the white employee was “an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination” and that there were no allegations that the “racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.”
Do you think that courts and juries may have a hard time accepting that white workers can be victims of racial discrimination in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.