Judge: Fouts can be questioned in racial bias suit
A federal judge has ruled that Warren Mayor James Fouts can testify in a deposition on a lawsuit filed by a former police officer suing the city for racial discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg granted DeSheila Howlett's motion to have Fouts questioned and denied the city's motion to quash subpoenas and notices of depositions, according to court records filed Tuesday.
Howlett filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year with complaints against Fouts, then-police commissioner Jere Green and other officers.
Howlett, who worked with the police department from 2006 to 2016, said she was its first African-American officer. During her employment, she faced racial and gender hostility and discrimination, according to the complaint.
"(Howlett) has been constantly peppered with inappropriate, insulting, demeaning, racially stereotypical, and offensive comments ... by her supervisors and co-officers while other similarly-situated white police officers have suffered no such treatment and/or conduct," according to the complaint.
When she reported mistreatment to her supervisors, they "failed/refused to undertake any actions to supervise, train, and/or discipline those officers who engaged in these illegal acts that were a part of the unlawful work environment that was hostile to women and blacks," the complaint alleges.
In an April 10, 2018, court filing, Howlett stated she wanted to depose Fouts because he is instrumental in developing and implementing policies.
"The Mayor has driven diversity policy in the City," the filing says. "He was instrumental in hiring and firing a Diversity Director for the City ... Even within the Police Department, the climate of discrimination was prevalent and driven by Mayor Fouts."
"Our position has always been the lack of diversity training was a moving force that led to the violation of my client's constitutional rights that led to her injury," Howlett's attorney Leonard Mungo said.
Mungo said while no date has been set for Fouts' deposition, it must be held on or before Aug. 20. Berg ordered that Fouts' questioning should not exceed four hours.
Fouts did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
This is not the first instance Fouts has been involved in a racial controversy. In January 2016, Fouts denied he was the one making crude comments in recordings that prompted calls for his resignation.
Read more: Fouts expects more recordings to be released
Besides green-lighting Fouts' testimony, the judge refused to quash subpoenas issued to Warren city clerk Paul Wojno and city treasurer Lorie Barnwell. Berg ruled their depositions should not exceed three hours.
"It's cited in the brief we filed, the city clerk and treasurer have testimony that would pertain to diversity training," Mungo said. "We believe they have testimonies that would be relevant to our claim."
Berg also denied the city's motion to move the case to Grand Rapids.