18 Austin police officers file racial discrimination lawsuit against city after reassignments

A group of Austin police officers sued the city Wednesday, claiming the Police Department discriminated against them by forcing them out of the elite organized crime division.

In total, 18 officers filed suit against the city seeking monetary damages. They allege that age and race were involved in their transfers from the organized crime division. Their reassignments have negatively affected their promotional tracks, their lawyers said.

The American-Statesman reported in January that a reorganization of the organized crime division rankled the officers who were forced out. Officers in the unit investigate crimes such as drug trafficking and human trafficking.

All of the officers who filed suit are over the age of 40, and most are black or Hispanic. They were replaced by younger, white officers, the suit states. Their reassignments prompted legal complaints to the Texas Workforce Commission, a required precursor to any legal action, officials said.

“This wasn’t right, and we don’t see any benefit out of it,” one of their attorneys, Mark Crampton, said. “We don’t think the administration at Austin Police Department should treat any cops like this.”

A spokeswoman for the Police Department said the department has not yet seen the lawsuit, and that it would be inappropriate to respond to the allegations at this time.

Age discrimination is “endemic” within the police department, Crampton said. He and attorney Walter L. Taylor represented 29 Austin police officers in an age discrimination suit that won a $1.5 million judgment in 2011. An appeals court upheld that judgment in February, and the city is not pursuing any further appeals, Taylor said.

In July 2013, the officers involved in this most recent suit were given notices that they had 28 days to find other jobs within the police department. The new assignments were not demotions but included moving them from investigative positions to night patrol shifts, Crampton said.

The large-scale reassignment also suggested the officers may have done something wrong, Crampton said.

“For the most part, they are highly decorated officers with exemplary records,” he said

The Texas Workforce Commission dismissed the officers’ discrimination complaints on May 31 stating investigators found no grounds for discrimination. However, the dismissal stated its findings are not ironclad and noted that the ruling cleared the way for the officers to file suit.

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