Despite the heightened scrutiny given to reverse racial discrimination claims, it is difficult but not impossible to prevail under the right circumstances.
Recently, Christopher Barrella, a white lieutenant with the police department for the Village of Freeport in Long Island, New York, obtained a jury verdict in his favor in his racial discrimination case against the village and its mayor, Andrew Hardwick. Barrella was awarded $150,000 in lost back pay, $1 million in lost future pay, and a punitive damages award of $200,000 against the mayor for a total of $1.35 million. Barrella successfully claimed that he was not promoted to chief of police despite being more qualified and scoring higher on the promotion exam than the minority candidate who was promoted to the position by Hardwick. The case was litigated in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before Judge Arthur D. Spatt, who entered judgment in the case on May 28, 2014.
There was some evidence presented that Hardwick did not consider Barrella, a 23-year veteran of the department, for the position and did not even interview him before deciding to promote the minority candidate. Barrella’s attorneys argued that Hardwick demoted several white officers and forced others to retire so that he could replace them with less-qualified minority candidates.
The case provides a cautionary tale that employers, and especially municipalities, must follow proper procedures and have a rational basis for their employment and promotional decisions.
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