Judge tosses reverse discrimination suits against Michigan State Police

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by two high-level Michigan State Police officials who claimed they had been victims of reverse discrimination.

In a 35-page ruling released Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said that while Capt. Michael Caldwell and Inspector R. Michael Hahn have shown they disagree with the policy and priorities of the MSP, "at bottom, this is all they have shown."

The suit, filed in March 2020, contended that Caldwell had been demoted and Hahn fired for refusing to adhere to "blatant racial and gender preferences" implemented to satisfy the clamor of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration "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."

The two MSP veterans were the commander and assistant commander of the Seventh District in the northern Lower Peninsula when they were disciplined for violating "department policy related to the promotion and selection process," MSP Col. Joe Gasper, the director of the department, said at the time.

The MSP and Gasper were defendants in the lawsuit, which said Caldwell and Hahn were punished for being outspoken against Whitmer's push to increase opportunities for women and minorities on the force.

The ruling “doesn’t surprise me,” said their attorney, James Fett of Pinckney.

Fett said he will appeal, and will also pursue the case in state court. He said that at the same time Jonker rejected the claims of Caldwell and Hahn, he dismissed a separate suit by MSP Lt. Michael McCormick contending that he was passed up for a promotion to post commander because he is white.

Jonker's decision said there is "scant evidence that Director Gasper had any active involvement in Plaintiffs’ disciplinary process."

"The main characters in this case are all white males," Jonker noted, and the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate "that their discipline was retaliation for their complaints about the administration’s diversity policies."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in a statement Tuesday said "these dismissals are important not just for MSP’s integrity as an employer, but for recognizing there is nothing inherently illegal about a diverse and inclusive work environment.

“These suits were an attempt to undermine MSP’s efforts to ensure the force properly represents the communities it serves," she said. "That doesn’t amount to discrimination — it's responsible community policing. I appreciate that Judge Jonker’s findings make clear the allegations laid out by these plaintiffs simply did not exist. I’m also proud of the AAGs (assistant attorney general's) who worked diligently to achieve this outcome for our client agency.” 

Added Gasper: “This affirms what we have said from the beginning – the claims are false. There never was, or will be, employment, promotion, retention, or any other personnel practice decisions made motivated by bias or based on discrimination."

The case against Caldwell and Hahn stemmed from a request for a lateral transfer by Detective Lt. Michael Bush, head of the Traverse Narcotics Team, who wanted to become assistant post commander in Gaylord.

Caldwell opposed the transfer of Bush, who is white, because Bush was relatively new in his current job and was needed there.

An internal investigation by the MSP ultimately determined that Caldwell acted with "clear and distinct intent to undermine the selection process," and Hahn "violated department policy when you used your position to bully and intimidate members under your command participating in a selection process."

Caldwell retired in May, Fett said, and Hahn has been looking without success for a job in law enforcement.


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn