Lawsuit by white Michigan State Police sergeant claims racial, LGBT discrimination

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — An attorney representing a white, gay Michigan State Police sergeant filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming the agency's diversity efforts discriminate against her because of her race, and that her supervisor subjected her to a homophobic atmosphere.

Sgt. Larissa LaMay claims in her suit that she was passed over in January for the position of assistant post commander in lieu of an African American woman who had been "disciplined for failing to show up for work and falsifying records to conceal it."

The suit further claims LaMay, who is a lesbian, was subjected to anti-gay rhetoric from her supervisor during a meeting last year.

Four lawsuits point to comments by Michigan State Police director Col. Joseph Gasper reportedly made at a public meeting in October in which he said the agency was "way too white and way too male."

The 11-page lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court's Eastern District, names as defendants MSP, director Joseph Gasper and Keyonn Whitfield, commander of the Metro North post in Oak Park.

State police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said in an emailed statement that she learned about the lawsuit Thursday morning.

“The Michigan State Police is committed to maintaining a work environment where there is equal opportunity for all members, one in which decisions regarding employment, promotion, retention, or any other personnel practice are not motivated by bias or based on discrimination,” Banner said.

LaMay's lawsuit is similar to three others that have been filed by white MSP employees since May. Each of the suits points to comments state police director Col. Joseph Gasper reportedly made at a public meeting on Oct. 8, 2019, in which he said the agency was "way too white and way too male," and added that he planned to set aside 25% of future job openings for minorities, and 20% for females.

"Coming from the top official of a para-military organization, Defendant Gasper's directive to prefer minorities constitutes standard operating procedure, a pattern and practice of racial preferences designed to favor Blacks over Whites at all levels of the agency," said LaMay's lawsuit, which was filed by her attorney Jim Fett, who represents the plaintiffs in the other three suits.

Fett said in a Thursday email: "The MSP is drunk on diversity.  So drunk that they are using illegal means (racial and gender preferences) to achieve it ... because the MSP is a paramilitary organization, its members are carrying out Gasper's orders and giving preferential treatment in hiring, promotion, discipline and all other aspects of employment."

LaMay's lawsuit, which seeks than $75,000 in damages, claims state police officials violated her 14th Amendment rights, along with the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a 1976 Michigan law that prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, age, sex and other attributes.

MSP has been criticized by some civil rights activists for its racial makeup, although state police officials have insisted they've tried to attract more minority candidates by holding job fairs and other outreach efforts in minority communities.

As of June 27, of the 1,945 uniformed MSP employees, 90% were white and 91% were male; there were 114 uniformed African Americans, comprising 6% of the force. Of the agency's 1,060 civilian employees, 91% were white, and 41% were male. Blacks made up 4% of MSP's civilian workforce.

LaMay claims in her lawsuit that Gasper and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are trying to boost MSP's minority ranks by discriminating against white employees.

"(Gasper) along with Governor Whitmer has decided that the MSP will grant racial preferences to Blacks as a means of equalizing the racial composition of the MSP workforce with the racial composition of Michigan's population," the suit says.

LaMay's suit further alleges that Whitfield, the commander of the Metro North Post, disparaged homosexuals after a gay state trooper gave a presentation last year about the challenges facing LGBT police officers. 

"At a mandatory Metro North Post sergeants meeting on November 20, 2019, Defendant Whitfield ... expounded 6-7 times on the oddity of a gay law enforcement officer," the lawsuit said. "Whitfield's comments made (LaMay), who is gay, extremely uncomfortable.

"Whitfield's bias against gay employees was laid bare in the presence of 10 sergeants and 1 lieutenant, yet nobody reported the comments until 5 months later." the suit claimed.

"Nobody reported Whitfield's gay-bashing statements until Lt. Marcus Trammel informed the District Command in early April 2020; the MSP issued him unwarranted discipline on account of his protected activity," the lawsuit claims.

MSP Lt. Michael McCormick, who is white, sued the state police and Gasper in August, claiming MSP officials passed him over for a promotion because of his race, and because he complained in a survey about what he said were racially-biased hiring and promotion practices. In his suit, he claimed state police officials "tied command bonuses to discriminating against white males."

In May, Fett filed two lawsuits on behalf of MSP employees who claimed they'd been disciplined or fired for speaking out against the agency's Affirmative Action efforts. Those lawsuits claim supervisors demoted Capt. Michael Caldwell and terminated Inspector R. Michael Hahn for arguing that promotions should be merit-based.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN