Lawsuit: State police officers targeted for opposing diversity moves

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Two Michigan State Police veterans on Monday sued the agency and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, claiming they were unfairly disciplined for opposing efforts to boost diversity within the ranks.

The federal litigation aims to “end blatant racial and gender preferences implemented to … satisfy the Whitmer administration's clamor for affirmative action (racial and gender preferences) banned by referendum in 2006, and … placate minority advocacy groups that falsely accuse the Michigan State Police of institutional racism,” attorney James Fett wrote.

In March, state police officials announced that the Seventh District commander and assistant commander had been placed on administrative leave for allegedly violating the agency's promotions policy.

According to the lawsuits, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, supervisors demoted Capt. Michael Caldwell and terminated Inspector R. Michael Hahn.

Both men claim the moves resulted from them speaking out as MSP Director Col. Joe Gasper last year worked to follow a push from Whitmer to set aside more positions for minorities and women on the force. The affirmative action directive “constitutes … a pattern and practice of racial and gender preferences designed to displace White males with minorities and females at all levels of the agency,” Fett wrote.

In a field operations bureau meeting last fall, Caldwell and Hahn reportedly argued that recruiting and promotions should be merit-based “and given that the MSP was a majority White male agency, it was statistically reasonable to expect that the majority of MSP members that have risen to the upper command echelon are White males,” the suit says.

Hahn alleges he was fired following a “bogus investigation” not long after reporting off-duty remarks by an African American officer that he believed violated MSP’s discrimination and harassment policy. He had also been involved in an interview process for a staffer’s transfer request that Caldwell denied, according to the lawsuit.

Neither Caldwell nor Hahn, who both are in their 50s and joined the department in 1990, had been disciplined before resisting the directive, their court filings said.

The men’s lawsuits allege violations of their constitutional rights and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a 1976 Michigan law that bars discrimination based on religion, race, age, sex and other attributes. They also say a constitutional amendment Michigan voters approved in 2006 bans the consideration of race and gender in public hiring.

Whitmer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.

Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for MSP, told The Detroit News the agency had “not yet been served with these lawsuits, so we haven’t fully reviewed them and the allegations made therein."

"I can confirm that in late March, following an internal investigation that revealed they violated department policy related to the promotion process, Robert Hahn was terminated from employment and Michael Caldwell was demoted and reassigned," Banner said. "We’ll reserve further comment about the merit of their allegations for our official response to these lawsuits.”

The lawsuits seek damages, reinstatement for both men as well as an injunction barring what it calls state officials' efforts to impose racial and gender preferences.