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updated: 12/31/2012 1:35 PM

Elgin officer files discrimination lawsuit against city

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  • An Elgin patrol officer is suing the city and two of its employees for racial discrimination.

      An Elgin patrol officer is suing the city and two of its employees for racial discrimination.

 

Editor's note: This article was changed to reflect the fact that Elgin Police Department has 11 black officers.

An Elgin patrol officer is suing the city and two of its employees for racial discrimination.

Attorneys representing Phillipp Brown, an Elgin officer since 1996, filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, naming Lt. Sean Rafferty and Internal Investigator James Barnes as co-defendants with the city of Elgin.

The lawsuit says the city failed to stop racial discrimination in the police department or remedy a racially hostile work environment. The suit also alleges the city violated the Family and Medical Leave Act in its treatment of Brown.

Barnes and Rafferty are both named as individuals engaging in racial discrimination within the department.

Rafferty served an unpaid, five-day suspension in August 2011 for behavior in the 1990s, when he posed for a photo next to a historical marker honoring the Indiana Times for its work exposing the Ku Klux Klan. Rafferty was smiling and making "K" signs with his fingers. The police department's suspension order also mentions a "race-based joke" Rafferty texted to Brown, who is black. Both incidents were mentioned in the lawsuit.

Brown is asking the court put an end to the racially hostile work environment detailed in the lawsuit by requiring "prompt and severe discipline against those

officers who engage in racially discriminatory conduct toward other officers or the public," according to the suit. The litigation also seeks to force the police department to provide racial sensitivity training for all its employees.
Brown and his attorneys also ask the court to impose a three-year monitoring period to track the city's progress in dismantling the alleged racially hostile work environment.

Monetary damages are identified to cover lost sick days and overtime as well as compensatory damages for "emotional harm and suffering." The lawsuit requests Rafferty and Barnes be made to pay punitive damages. And, if the court sides with Brown, the lawsuit asks for reimbursement of attorney fees and other costs of taking legal action.

Elgin officials would not comment on the pending litigation, but an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint Brown filed in October 2011 closely mirrors the allegations laid out in the current lawsuit.

The Daily Herald received a copy of the city's response to Brown's allegations through the Freedom of Information Act. The city said some of Brown's allegations

were outdated based on legal time frames, outlined why some incidents he mentioned were not racially motivated and defended its internal investigations as prompt and fair.

The EEOC in September issued a determination in which it declined to pursue Brown's claims, stating its investigator could neither find evidence supporting the allegations or clearing the city, but advised him of his right to sue.

Laurie M. Burgess and Steven Saltzman, two Chicago attorneys, are representing Brown in this case. Saltzman said a status hearing is set for Feb. 14 in Chicago's Dirksen Federal Building.

The Elgin Police Department has 176 officers, 11 of whom are black.

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