Ruling lets class-action bias suits over hiring proceed against Michigan State Police

The Michigan Court of Appeals has given the go-ahead for two class action lawsuits to go forward against the Michigan State Police over claims that the agency's testing and other hiring practices discriminate against Black applicants.

The court ruled Thursday in two cases, one filed in 2015 and the other in 2017, in which African American candidates complain that state police officials have used non-job related criteria such as credit information to deny Black applicants jobs as well as promotions.

In the 2015 lawsuit, MSP applicant Marlon Carter alleged MSP's pre-screening interview was discriminatory because it assigned numerical values to such criteria as credit history in determining if an applicant would move forward in the interview process.

The lawsuit not only names the Michigan State Police but also its former director,  Kriste Kibbey Etue, as well as the Civil Service Commission and its director.

"Comments or reaction to a court action in a lawsuit involving the state are best referred to the AG’s Office, but I can tell you that the MSP does not discriminate against any applicant in the recruiting or hiring process," state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said in an email.

A message seeking comment was left with a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

A Wayne County Circuit Court judge ruled last year that Carter's lawsuit lacked merit to certify it as a class-action complaint.

But the Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed, writing in its ruling, which was released Friday, that "there are questions of law or fact common to the members of the class that predominate over questions affecting only individual members."

Both lawsuits were filed by attorney Leonard Mungo in Wayne County Circuit Court and filed on behalf of 698 Black applicants who sought to become Michigan State Police troopers.

The 2017 lawsuit, filed on behalf of Carlos Bell and others with similar complaints, alleged the Michigan State Police's entrance exam, which has been revamped several times over the past 18 years, had a "disparate adverse impact on African-American applicants."

Bell alleges "intentional discrimination arising from defendants' failure to monitor the adverse impact of the examination on African American applicants."

A Wayne County Circuit Court judge ruled that the case should go forward as a class- action lawsuit, bringing together former MSP applicants who took the 2002 version of the MSP applicants' exam and the test given between March 2002 and December 2014. But the Michigan Civil Service Commission and the state's  personnel director appealed.

The three-judge panel for the Michigan Appeals Court upheld the circuit court ruling.

Mungo said the decision on both cases "is tremendously huge" in pointing out "disparate" treatment of Black applicants in hiring and also promotions and job treatment.

"The Court of Appeals has agreed that there is a problem and that African Americans are being giving disparate treatment as a group," Mungo said Friday.

The percentage of Black troopers in the Michigan State Police has dipped, said Mungo, to around 5% compared to 12.5% during the mid-1990s.

"We're calling (the MSP) out on the exact sin that the Justice Department called out (state police agencies) for in the 1970s," he said.

According to statistics provided by Banner, 113 of 1,945 MSP troopers and command officers, or 5.6%, are Black.

Mungo said the Department of Justice leveled a consent decree against state police departments around the country, including Michigan, and ordered many hiring practices and policies to be scrapped or reform to ensure fairness among all applicants.

Ensuring that African Americans and other racial minorities are adequately represented in the ranks on the Michigan State Police and other law enforcement agencies "is important in terms of Black Lives Matter and the police brutality of Blacks," said Mungo.