Black Officers at University of Washington File $8M Lawsuit for Racial Harassment

Five officers involved in the lawsuit describe ongoing racial slurs and open hostility directed at them.

Black Officers at University of Washington File $8M Lawsuit for Racial Harassment

Despite being regarded as one of the nation’s most progressive cities, Seattle is in the spotlight for racial issues, as five Black campus police officers at the University of Washington seek $8 million in damages for workplace conduct, as reported by The New York Times.

They describe an environment of continual racism and hostility. Dozens of incidents taking place over the past several years have been documented in the filings. The officers did not identify individuals who made the comments.

“I can’t sleep sometimes,” said one officer, “This has affected me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.”

The University of Washington campus police department has touted its diversity efforts and has boasted about how it trains its officers to beware of implicit bias. University officials said they were surprised by the allegations and had not been made aware of the issues.

“Any one of the incidents described here would prompt an immediate investigation and appropriate disciplinary action based on the investigation’s findings,” said university spokesperson Victor Balta.

This is not the first time the campus officers have filed a lawsuit over racial issues. Officer Russell Ellis, who joined the campus force 14 years ago, said in the New York Times report that he noticed problems from the beginning. In 2008, several current and former employees filed a civil rights lawsuit against the university with complaints of discrimination against Black, Jewish and female officers. That lawsuit was rejected by a jury in 2011.

Ellis left the department a year later, due to the discriminatory environment and eventually returned after the university hired new officers and leadership. But still, he says, the problems persisted.

The university has 60 days to pay or otherwise settle the claims, after which the plaintiffs can turn to the courts.

Balta said that the school plans to initiate its own investigation into the allegations.

“The U.W. is committed to maintaining a fair, equitable and inclusive environment and provides employees with many avenues for reporting inappropriate or discriminatory behavior so they can be addressed immediately,” he said.

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