A Hastings police officer is suing the City of Hastings, and several officials for racial discrimination.
Sgt. Cleon Brown, a 19-year-veteran of the police department has named the city, Police Chief Jeff Pratt, Deputy Chief Dale Boulter, Sgt. Kris Miller and City Manager Jeff Mansfield in a federal lawsuit filed early last month alleging derogatory remarks to him about his race.
Brown contends after he told fellow officers in November, 2016, that an Ancestry.com DNA test said he was 18 percent African, several officers in the department harassed him on different occasions during November and December 2016.
In a traditional event where officers put notes and other items in each others Christmas stockings during the holidays as a way to reduce the stress of their jobs, Brown a found black plastic Santa head with the number 18 percent in his stocking.
He said the harassment continued until Dec. 23, 2016. The law suit is for $500,000.
However, city attorneys issued a statement saying there are five elements Brown must meet to prevail in his charges of discrimination and he meets none of them.
“Sgt. Brown cannot demonstrate the elements necessary to prevail on a claim of illegal racial harassment with regard to the allegations contained in his Charge of Discrimination,” the statement from Hastings officials said.
The five elements:
(1) He is a member of a protected class,
(2) He was subject to unwelcome racial harassment,
(3) The harassment was based on race,
(4) The harassment unreasonably interfered with his work performance by creating a hostile work environment and,
(5) The employer is liable for the harassment if they fail to take prompt and corrective action once they become aware of harassment.
The city’s response:
Racial discrimination laws were not designed to protect those who can demonstrate some trace amount of a particular race through testing, but on outward appearances that stereotype an individual.
Brown made a point to tell others of his heritage, he joked about it in a racially derogatory way himself, went to other officers and raised the topic and engaged in typical racial stereotypes. “Clearly, Sgt. Brown welcomed his interaction with other officers on this topic.” the statement reads. “In this case, the facts show that not only did claimant invite joking and banter regarding racial stereotypes because of his African heritage, but he never found them to be abuse or hurtful toward him,” according to the statement. //
“Sgt. Brown did not mention the fact that he was offended by any actions of fellow officers during November and December, 2016, until February, 2017.” When he did, Pratt asked if there were any more instances of harassment, and Brown mentioned the black Santa.
Pratt told Brown he had made sure the Santa was removed at the time and told those who had seen the Santa there would be no more joking with Brown about his genetic test results. Brown acknowledged there were no incidents after Dec. 23, 2016.
Since the city took appropriate action to prevent any further harassment or any matter involving illegal harassment or discrimination, the city is not liable for the harassment, the statement concluded.
Brown was hired by the Hastings Police Department as a patrol officer on April 13, 1998. He was promoted to Sergeant on January 30, 2016.