Two Black women who worked for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging they were retaliated against for speaking out against racism and misconduct by White officers, the third lawsuit in the past four months to raise questions about the work culture in the department.
Felicia Carson and Lisa Burton have accused the head of the Internal Affairs Division of forcing them out of that division because of their race and gender after they complained of “preferential treatment in favor of white officers.”
“The MPD is not just about a hostile work environment for police officers. They’re about a culture that protects and prioritizes White male officers,” said Pamela Keith, one of the attorneys on all three lawsuits.
The MPD responded to the latest lawsuit and one filed by 10 women in September, telling CNN in a written statement that it is “committed to treating all members fairly and equitably” within the organization. “We take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly,” the MPD said in response to the first and latest lawsuit.
It declined to comment on the second suit, which was filed in October.
CNN also reached out to the DC Police Union and the National Association of Government Employees Union for comment about the three lawsuits but has not heard back.
In the latest lawsuit, Carson says she referred a White MPD officer to a disciplinary review board after she found he violated general orders by “wrongfully grabbing a young black male by the throat” in 2018 and “lying about the basis for an arrest to his superiors.”
Carson was fired to silence her and keep her from participating in the disciplinary proceedings, the lawsuit alleges, and the disciplinary hearing for the officer was canceled and he was “given the opportunity to negotiate a lesser discipline.”
The lawsuit also says Burton faced retaliation for reporting a fellow IAD agent for “a racist and disparaging comment” about Black men.”
“Plaintiff Burton had her duties stripped from her, had her vehicle taken away, was denied training opportunities and was ostracized while she was on investigations” after filing an Equal Employment Opportunity report expressing concerns about her treatment, according to the lawsuit.
The IAD had 13 Black agents, nine of whom were Black women, in 2018 when a new Internal Affairs Bureau Chief came into the role, the lawsuit alleges.
“Three years later, IAD has only two Black female agents, one of whom transferred into the Department in 2021,” the lawsuit says. “Most of the seasoned and experienced Black women agents were moved out by [the new Chief] either by termination, targeted harassment and retaliation, or due to being overworked and pressured for results which forced them to quit.”
The plaintiffs are seeking money damages, reinstatement and back pay. They also want the “MPD to cease and desist discriminating against Black women IAD Agents” and for an investigation to be conducted by the MPD Inspector General regarding “potential civil rights violations by MPD Officers, IAD supervisors” and others within MPD, according to the suit.
The second lawsuit was filed in October by three Black women who are former members of the MPD Cadet Program, which provides training and experience in law enforcement to potential police recruits. After the program, cadets typically enter the Metropolitan Police Officer Recruit Program although they are also subject to discharge with little recourse, the lawsuit states.
“The second case really highlights how from a very early stage of their career, cadets are taught to keep their mouth shut about misconduct and bad behavior and that those who speak up will be drummed out and those that keep their mouth shut will get through just fine,” said Keith, the attorney. “That is a toxic culture, and it should be one that everybody rejects.”
The suit alleges that the MPD is aware front-line supervisors abuse their power to “harass, isolate, intimidate, bully and denigrate Cadets.”
It says the MPD terminated the plaintiffs — Alice McIntosh, Anari Miller and Remani Wideman — as retaliation for participating in an ongoing investigation into the alleged misconduct of a supervisor. The women were informed that their contracts would not be renewed.
Counts in the second lawsuit against the MPD include violation of the DC Whistleblower Protection Act, breach of contract, negligent supervision and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, among others.
The three former cadets are seeking compensation for “their anguish, severe mental pain and suffering, damage to their reputations, damage to their current and future job opportunities, lost wages, lost benefits, and all other losses” that amounts to no less than $5 million for each plaintiff, according to the suit. For those still interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, they are also seeking to be reinstated to the MPD as “sworn officers.” They also ask for a zero-tolerance policy to be put in place for bullying and retaliation in the MPD Cadet Program.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs only became aware their treatment might be part of a larger issue when the first lawsuit against the department was filed in September.
That lawsuit on behalf of 10 Black women MPD police officers alleged racial and sexual discrimination, a hostile workplace and a culture of intimidation.
The women alleged they were treated with contempt and subjected to a male-dominated “culture of race and sex discrimination” and “intense pervasive retaliation” when they complained about it, according to the lawsuit. Nine of the women are current and former members of the force with at least 15 years of experience. The other woman served for five years and was once honored as police officer of the year, according to the suit.
The 10 women are seeking compensation and corresponding declaratory and injunctive relief “that remedies the MPD’s culture, pattern practice and custom of allowing employees to abuse their power.”
Dennis Jay Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told CNN that these are all serious allegations and, if true, show a “hostile workplace and environment.” Kenney also believes that an external assessment should be completed, in which a non-affiliated third party would conduct an investigation into all of the allegations.
“The police department needs to be held accountable for why they failed to act and why their mechanisms failed to take corrective action in all of the cases that have been described,” he said. “They certainly should be followed up on. My only question is whether or not they are race or gender-based.”
Keith said she believes that race played a factor, as it may have worked out differently if these were White cadets.
“Being a Black woman in America, your pain is disregarded. And when you try to speak up, you’re labeled an angry Black woman as if everyone has a right to be angry when they’re mistreated, except Black women,” Keith said. “These are women who were absolutely ground into dust and it should outrage everyone because we don’t know what their potential was. We don’t know what they could’ve been had they had been given a fair shot.”
Keith said she believes that it is up to the DC Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to manage the police department and “comprehend that there is a management problem.” Mayor Bowser’s office declined to comment. CNN has also reached out to the DC Council for a comment but hasn’t yet received a response.
“The corruption in this entity is significant and severe,” Keith said. “It’s an absolute application of the responsibilities of our city leadership.”