White police officers who say the San Francisco Police Department uses a biased promotional system that favors black and female candidates named the city, county, police department, the police commission, Police Chief William Scott, Mayor London Breed and several others in a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.
A dozen SFPD employees claim they were overlooked for promotions to sergeant, lieutenant and captain because they are white and male, save for one retired officer who says that her status as a white lesbian is why she was passed over for a lieutenant’s post.
The officers, represented by M. Greg Mullanax of the Law Office of M. Greg Mullanax in Fresno, California, claim lower-scoring black and female officers get promoted over white and male contenders because of the department’s race and gender quota system, creating a “pernicious atmosphere of confusion, obfuscation and blatant discrimination.”
The complaint claims the foundation for SFPD’s promotional system has been shaped by a class action filed on behalf of black officers facing discrimination in the 1970s. After Officers for Justice v. Civil Service Comm’n in 1973, the police department began using a “banding” procedure to comply with a consent decree to hire a greater number of minority and female employees, according to the complaint.
Instead of a strict ranking order, a statistically derived band was used to advantage minority officers, and all the officers that fell within the band’s range were considered to be on the same footing in regards to knowledge, skills and abilities for promotional purposes. Although the consent decree ended in 1998, the complaint alleges that the banding system remains intact.
The officers allege that the SFPD has a history of discrimination against white males, and the complaint cites a handful of additional examples dating from 1983 to 2019. In August 2017, the city created a list of potential sergeants. The city used the “Rule of 10” when making its appointments, “which allows the city to move 10 ranks down the list from the last person selected” to increase the number of black and women sergeants, according to the complaint.
“The selections from the Sergeant’s promotional list reveal that white officers were passed over at a rate of nearly 3 to 1, as compared to black officers,” Mullanax writes in the complaint. “Put in its most stark terms, white officers comprised 63.5% of the total candidate pool (combining both promotional rounds) but accounted for only 46% of candidates selected in total, as compared to the 100% success rate for black officers.”
Mullanax did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The SFPD uses lawful, merit-based, competitive civil service examinations in making promotions, said John Coté, communications director for the Office of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whom the SFPD referred to for comment. “This system is enshrined in the City’s Charter and Civil Service Rules,” Coté said in a statement. “It’s designed to provide qualified individuals with the chance for advancement while ensuring fair treatment without regard to race, gender, religion, age or other status. We will review this lawsuit and address it in court.”
The officers claim they “have and continue to suffer serious injury, including but not limited to, extreme mental anguish, extreme embarrassment, extreme humiliation, anxiety and emotional distress” as a result of the discrimination. They demand a jury trial to seek damages, injunctive and equitable relief and attorney fees.