The city will dole out $700,000 to two black NYPD Detectives and to the survivors of a third, settling a lawsuit in which they had alleged systematic discrimination.
The class-action suit contended that the commander of the department’s Intelligence Bureau discriminated against black Detectives in the grade-promotion process.
Two Detectives—Jon McCollum, who retired in 2016; and Roland Stephens, who retired in 2017; and the widow of a third, Theodore Coleman, who died in 2016—filed suit in 2017.
“For well over a decade, the NYPD Intelligence Division has implemented a secretive and unstructured promotions policy, administered by white supervisors who refuse to promote deserving African-American Detectives,” according to the suit, which named the city; then-Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, head of the Intel Division from January 2002 until December 2013; and then-Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, now Chief of Intelligence and the Division’s commanding officer, as defendants.
“As a result of these policies…African-American Detectives have been repeatedly denied well-deserved promotions—even when recommended by their direct supervisor—without explanation, even while less-qualified white Detectives have been promoted above them," their complaint stated.
At the time of the filing in Manhattan Federal Court, the Detectives’ lead counsel, Elizabeth Saylor of the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, said a pattern of discrimination existed throughout the NYPD but was particularly notable in the Intelligence Division.
She said her findings uncovered that the division had a lower percentage of black officers than within the department as a whole and that until recently the entire command structure above the rank of Sergeant was white.
While Ms. Saylor said her clients were “definitely happy with the settlement,” the two retired Detectives remain dissatisfied with the promotion process, which she called “standard-less” and entirely up to Chief Galati.
“The whole process is confidential. People don’t even know if they’re being considered” for promotion, she said. “There’s not real standards as to why somebody gets promoted. There’s no clear criteria.”
Detective Annette Shelton, an NYPD spokeswoman, said that after years of review of statistics and other evidence within the Intelligence Bureau, both the NYPD and the U.S. Justice Department had concluded that race discrimination “is not a factor in the promotional process.”
“The Intelligence Bureau is made up of a diverse group of men and women from all different ethnic and operational backgrounds. Its members speak different languages, have an array of skill sets, range in tenure within the Department and the Bureau, and contribute to the Bureau’s success in protecting a similarly diverse City from the threat of terror,” Detective Shelton said in a statement. “Discretionary promotions are based on a number of considerations which may include time, grade and performance. The city made a practical decision to settle this case with no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the NYPD, and with claims against all NYPD officials dismissed.”
Joined Division in 2001
The three Detectives joined the Intelligence Division, an elite branch charged with preventing and investigating terrorism and other major crimes, 18 years ago. According to the lawsuit, they worked to rescue people trapped in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11 and, in the aftermath, helped with the cleanup and investigation, interviewed suspected terrorists and followed up on numerous leads.
Before filing their lawsuit, the three Detectives had brought a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In it, they said that as a result of the NYPD’s failure to post vacancies, publicize promotion times, detail eligibility criteria, or interview or rank candidates, African-Americans “are substantially underrepresented in the Intelligence Division.” According to their complaint, while blacks made up 18 percent of NYPD officers, just 6 percent of Intelligence Division personnel were black. There were comparable percentages with regard to Detectives. The complaint alleged that the African-Americans were “completely unrepresented in the senior levels of the Intelligence Division, with no African-Americans holding a rank above Sergeant.”
All three Detectives were promoted after filing the EEOC complaint.
But the lawsuit said that while the white colleagues promoted at the same time as Detective McCollum averaged about five years before their promotion, his black colleagues promoted at the same time had averaged nearly 10 years, “and Detective McCollum waited 16 years.”
Detective Stephens, the suit said, was promoted to Second Grade nearly 14 years after his promotion to Detective Third Grade. “The white colleagues promoted along with Detective Stephens averaged about six years before promotion, while he and his African-American colleagues averaged 12 years,” the suit said.
The suit said that only after a decade as a Third-Grade Detective and months away from his retirement was Detective Coleman promoted to Second Grade. According to the suit, he was among the last Detectives in his entering Intelligence Division class to earn a promotion.
‘Cynical Attempt’ by Galati
But, the suit maintained, Detective Coleman “understood that his long-delayed promotion was a cynical attempt by the NYPD to appease all African-American Detectives and stave off any further challenges to the persistent racial inequalities within the Intelligence Division” after Chief Galati was told by a union representative that African-American Detectives sensed they were being discriminated against.
The EOC concluded in 2016 that “Black Detectives do not receive equal treatment in promotion.” In its decision, it included the NYPD’s defense, which said the department’s promotion system was “fair and inclusive.”
The decision noted that the department’s response—that any shortfall “in the participation rate” of African-Americans was due “to unspecified individual circumstances”—did “not withstand scrutiny.”
According to the EEOC, the NYPD’s “wholly subjective and secret process operates without any structured guidelines.”
The Department of Justice, which can file suit to enforce EEOC decisions, declined to do so, in keeping with the Trump Administration’s decision to stop its inquiries into questionable practices by local police departments.