A Tacoma police lieutenant and 30-year veteran of the department has filed a legal claim against the city, saying he’s been unfairly passed over for a promotion several times because he is black.
Lt. LeRoy Standifer, who joined the department in 1985 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2003, points to three people who were promoted to captain ahead of him, despite the fact that he was more qualified and had more education and training.
No black member of the department has been promoted to the rank of captain or above in at least 15 years, Standifer said. The city confirmed that is true.
“I think our promotion process is really subjective, it’s biased, it’s not really based on merit achievement,” Standifer said last week. “I think it’s preferential treatment to Caucasians.”
Standifer’s attorney filed a tort claim, which is often a precursor to a lawsuit, with the city Jan. 3. Standifer also filed a complaint with the city’s Equal Employment Office in December, outlining a timeline of instances when he felt he’d been wrongly passed over for promotion.
The city has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
In the tort letter, Seattle-based attorney Alex J. Higgins said Standifer estimates his damages at $750,000.
Standifer said he never complained in previous years when he wasn’t promoted, but the final straw came when his supervisor and others in the department informally told him last fall that a colleague would be promoted to captain for an upcoming opening, and he would not. That colleague has been in the department fewer years and has less training, Standifer said, though he said that person did place first on the civil service exam.
“We believe race is a substantial factor in the decision” about who gets promoted and who doesn’t, Higgins said in an interview. “Whether a conscious thought or unconscious discrimination, the law doesn’t make a distinction.”
When you go back to 2003 and the timeline of events I’ve had to endure, and you look at these things, you kind of go, ‘Well there is a problem,’ especially when you’re looking at education, training and department experience as nonfactors
Tacoma police Lt. Leroy Standifer
The city says six people have been promoted to captain since 2005, the first year Standifer would have been eligible to take the civil service test for promotion to that position. When a lieutenant wants to move up to captain, he or she takes an oral civil service exam, which results in a ranking, Standifer said. Police Chief Don Ramsdell can choose among the top five candidates on the list to promote.
That leads to subjectivity in the process that is inherently unfair, Standifer said.
“I think it’s our culture … and the culture starts with your chief and is perpetuated throughout the organization,” he said. “When you go back to 2003 and the timeline of events I’ve had to endure, and you look at these things, you kind of go, ‘Well there is a problem,’ especially when you’re looking at education, training and department experience as nonfactors” in promotion.
While he has not tested into first place in the civil service exam for promotion to captain, he has placed in the top five, and Standifer said he has more education and training than others who have been promoted ahead of him. Standifer said he has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Pacific Lutheran University, and associate’s degrees in criminal justice and arts and sciences from Pierce College.
He’s also a graduate of the FBI National Academy, a 10-week training program for law enforcement managers nominated by heads of their agencies. He said he’s never had a disciplinary issue in his more than three decades at the department, and recent performance evaluations show consistent praise, with all marks of “meets standards” and “exceeds standards.” In one of his evaluations, he was credited with taking the initiative to reinstate the department’s Citizens Academy, which he set up and ran while also taking care of his other duties.
“If you look across the country at who’s heading departments, a lot of these folks have advanced degrees,” Standifer said. “When you think you’d want to talk about the professionalism of your organization, one of the first things you’d want to talk about is education, department experience, training and background.”