WASHINGTON (AP) – Dozens of current and retired black officers with the U.S. Capitol Police submitted an amended complaint against the agency this week, the latest filing in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit that dates back more than a decade.
The updated lawsuit, filed in federal court Wednesday, largely restates earlier allegations of a racially hostile work environment in the agency responsible for protecting members of Congress and safeguarding congressional buildings. But the new complaint includes a significantly pared-down number of plaintiffs, with just 72 remaining out of the more than 300 who initially brought the case in 2001.
Seventeen of the original plaintiffs have died, and others either dropped out of the case or did not meet the stringent jurisdictional requirements for participating in the suit, said their lawyer, Joseph Gebhardt.
"There was a fairly large number of plaintiffs who have dropped out,'' Gebhardt said. "They just don't want to continue for whatever reason. Our clients argue that these people are very discouraged.''
The lawsuit alleges a widespread pattern of racial discrimination, with some officers contending that they were passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified white officers because of their race and publicly humiliated and subjected to racial slurs and epithets. One officer alleged that he witnessed a hangman's noose in the locker room, while another officer nicknamed "Ike'' says a K-9 dog was given the same name.
A Capitol Police spokeswoman had no immediate comment Friday.
But in court papers, the department has said the plaintiffs either weren't discriminated against on the basis of race or failed to exhaust administrative remedies before suing the agency. A lower court judge had dismissed the case but a federal appeals court revived it in 2009.
A Justice Department survey of federal law enforcement agencies issued last year found that as of September 2008, minorities made up 37.1 percent of the department, a higher percentage than many other federal agencies with 500 or more full-time officers.
The agency has said it is making progress in its promotions and appointments. Last year, the department promoted its first two African American female captains, and this year named its first black assistant chief.
*Pictured above is Joseph Gebhardt.