Judge: Parts of ex-cop's suit against Warren can proceed

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

The only African-American woman hired by the Warren Police Department through 2017 can proceed with portions of her federal civil rights suit against the city and some individual employees, a federal judge ruled.

DeSheila Howlett alleges the city and employees, including police officers, discriminated against her and abused and harassed her because of her race and gender when she worked for the department beginning in 2006.

Howlett also alleges the city allowed a racially and sexually hostile work environment by failing to provide adequate training.

The city sought to dismiss some of Howlett’s claims before trial, asserting, in part, a lack of evidence and the passage of time.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg ruled, in a decision filed Monday, that Howlett can proceed with her complaints of discrimination based on race and gender and her complaint that the city is liable for having permitted a hostile workplace in the police department.

But issues regarding the statute of limitations prevented Howlett from introducing some evidence to back her complaint that her rights were violated when, she alleges, the department systematically failed to provide her with adequate “back up,” while on duty, Berg ruled.

The judge also granted motions to dismiss Howlett’s allegation of a conspiracy, saying she had failed to provide evidence of the formation of a conspiracy, which, Berg said, is “a threshold” of evidence required by legal precedent.

And the allegations concerning Howlett’s complaint that the discrimination and harassment prevented her from enforcing a contract are barred by precedent, Berg said.

Such allegations must be heard as complaints under federal civil right law regarding government action, not contractual law, the judge said.

Howlett alleges that discriminatory and abusive behavior began as soon as she started working in 2006.

She asserts it includes, in part, evaluations of job performance, abusive language about racial stereotypes, questioning her competence because she is a woman and not reinforcing her while on patrol when she requested assistance.

Howlett also asserts that for years, a troubled police department received no diversity training.

When one officer whom, she said, harassed her finally got the training after a two-year delay, his behavior improved, and he said the remediation proved effective.

The city said it provided adequate, routine training on diversity issues in the department.

It also said that some of the officers Howlett alleged harassed and discriminated against her remained her friends.

But Berg found little legal help for the city or the department in that argument.

“It suggests that a person can become inoculated against ever being subject to work place harassment claims simply by befriending one’s co-workers,” the judge wrote.

Howlett “testified to numerous incidents that she felt were harassing and unwelcome,” Berg said, referring to her depositions in the case. “That she may at one time have had a friendly rapport with someone who participated in the alleged harassment does not mean such harassment was welcome.”