Two Cobb County Police officers are suing their department and its chief claiming they were not promoted from lieutenant to captain because of their race.
An attorney for Lieutenants James Brown and Craig Owens, both black, filed a federal lawsuit May 29. The county department and Chief John Houser are listed as defendants in the 26-page document.
“Imagine if in your job, you’re never allowed to have a promotion … your income is limited and also your potential for what you can actually do and your influence within your career can be limited,” said Atlanta attorney Ed Buckley, who represents both men.
The two veteran county officers make five claims in the suit, including denial of equal protection, race discrimination, retaliation, discrimination and retaliation in violation of Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
The goal of the lawsuit is for the men to be promoted and be awarded damages as a result of the discrimination.
“They have lost pay and benefits because of this. We want them to be properly compensated,” Buckley said.
The amount of monetary damages would be up to the jurors.
County spokesman Robert Quigley declined to comment on pending litigation but did provide demographic details requested from the county police department.
Of Cobb Police’s 582 officers, 54 of them, or about 9 percent, are black. There are eight Asian officers, 14 Hispanic officers, four who have not identified themselves by race and 502 white officers.
Chief Houser’s command staff is made up of one Asian and seven white captains; one black and three white majors; and two white deputy chiefs.
The 2012 U.S. Census reports that Cobb County is 67 percent white, 26 percent black, 5 percent Asian and 2 percent “other.”
The lawsuit claims Owens and Brown were denied promotion to the rank of captain several times since they qualified and that the officers chosen to earn the promotion were all white.
The lawsuit specifically details six different situations where both officers were up for a promotion and a white officer was promoted, despite Owens and Brown having more education or training certificates.
The most recent opportunity for a promotion was in May when they both received the lowest internal review scores among the applicants but the highest external review scores.
“Our concern is also that the internal review is biased,” Buckley said.
Owens, who has been with Cobb Police since 1989, has a master’s degree in public administration, bachelor of science in criminal justice, graduate certificate in pre-command from the U.S. Army Command College and at least 10 criminal justice-related certifications.
Owens has also served on a number of units, including the Criminal Investigation Unit and the Special Operations Unit.
Buckley also argues in the lawsuit that Owens was denied a promotion when he was deployed in 2008 with the U.S. Army Reserves.
“While he was overseas, he learned that there would be a promotion in rank to captain,” Buckley said. “When he returned, he was simply told that he couldn’t be considered for (the promotion) because of his deployment.”
That, Buckley goes on to argue, is in violation of the Re-employment Rights Act enacted in 1994 to protect the civilian employment of non-full-time military service members called to active duty.
Brown, who started with the Cobb department in 1988, has experience in the Driving Under the Influence Task Force, Criminal Investigations Unit, and Special Weapons and Tactical Unit among others.
“The conduct of Defendant in failing to promote plaintiffs on the basis of their race while promoting from other, less qualified white lieutenants with less education, experience, time with the Cobb County Police Department, time in rank as lieutenants and worse disciplinary backgrounds and fitness scores, violates plaintiffs’ right to the equal protection of the laws as granted by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states.
Both men have also filed discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012.
A trial date has not been scheduled, but Buckley doesn’t anticipate the case being heard before a judge until next year.