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Cop sues Farmington Hills, chief, alleges racial bias

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

A Black police officer has filed a federal court lawsuit against Farmington Hills and its police chief, alleging racial and discriminatory practices including being sent home when he couldn't meet a “clean-shaven” order due to a skin condition.

In his 15-page federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Dwayne J. Robinson, 45, claims he and other unnamed Black officers have been repeatedly denied training and promotional opportunities for advancement that were provided to less-qualified White officers. Robinson, who spent 14 years as a Detroit police officer, joined the Farmington Hills force in 2014, according to his attorney Joel B. Sklar.

“He has been an exemplary officer and received two life-saving commendations,” said Sklar. “But has been repeatedly denied a chance at other jobs or training.”

The lawsuit alleges Robinson, currently on afternoon patrol duty, has been denied field training for positions including school liaison officer, special assignment, Detective Unit member or Traffic Enforcement Task Force member. The lawsuit alleges Black officers are “relegated to road patrol positions and not provided equal opportunities for training opportunities and career advancement.”

In March 2020, the lawsuit alleges Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King required Robinson and others to be “clean shaven” as part of an effort to have department personnel wear N-95 respiratory masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In April 2020, Robinson advised King of his dermatological condition and disability — pseudofolliculitis barbae — which afflicts Black men and makes a close shave to the skin very painful. The common inflammatory condition is caused by ingrown hairs in the beard area of Black men who have tightly coiled hair, according to the complaint.

Robinson suggested alternative personal protection equipment; shaving down to one-quarter inch; or assignment to duties that could permit him to perform duties without interruption or loss in pay, according to the complaint. King refused and instead put Robinson on sick leave, the suit alleges.

In November 2020, Robinson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was later dismissed, Sklar said.

“He used up all his sick pay and was eventually permitted to return to duty and is working now,” Robinson's attorney said. “But we don’t feel this is fair and want him reimbursed for his time, along with any increases of pay he might have received should he have been rightfully promoted.”

King declined comment Friday, citing a city policy to not discuss pending litigation.

The lawsuit alleges Robinson suffered retaliation from King, in violation of the officer's free speech rights, for speaking out against discriminatory practices. It also alleges violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complaint seeks unspecified damages for “loss of earnings, fringe benefits, mental anguish, physical and emotional distress, humiliation, anger and embarrassment and loss of professional reputation.”

The lawsuit is assigned to Judge Sean Cox.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319