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Justice Department Announces $1.2 Million Dollar Settlement of Title VII Intentional Race Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit Involving Law Enforcement Victims in Maryland

Gerald Scroop

September 30, 2020

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the Worcester County Sheriff, in his official capacity (currently Matthew Crisafulli, formerly Reggie Mason), and the state of Maryland, resolving allegations that a former staff member was subjected to a racially hostile work environment and that he and others who supported him were retaliated against after he complained about the racial discrimination. The Justice Department also announced the settlement of related retaliation claims filed against Pocomoke City, Maryland that were resolved on Dec. 4, 2019.

“Subjecting a law enforcement officer to egregious racial slurs and epithets, then retaliating against him and others who supported him for reporting the misconduct, strikes at the heart of the race discrimination prohibitions that Congress enacted when it passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric S. Dreiband. “The police officers who were the victims of this unlawful race discrimination and retaliation will benefit from this agreement, and the Justice Department will continue vigorously to enforce Title VII to preserve the right of all citizens, including the brave men and women who serve in law enforcement, to work with dignity and respect and without regard to the color of their skin.” 

The United States’ complaint in intervention, filed on Dec. 1, 2016, alleged that former Pocomoke City Police Officer Franklin Savage was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, which included repeated racial epithets and other racially-charged acts of harassment, while on assignment to the Criminal Enforcement Team, a multijurisdictional drug enforcement unit operated through the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. The United States also alleged that Savage’s complaints about racial harassment resulted in a series of retaliatory actions against him by the State of Maryland, through the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, and by Pocomoke City, culminating in the termination of his employment. The complaint further alleged that Pocomoke City retaliated against two other officers — former Pocomoke City Police Chief Kelvin Sewell and former Pocomoke City Police Lieutenant Lynell Green — for supporting Savage in the course of his complaints. Pocomoke City eventually terminated Chief Sewell’s employment.

Under the terms of a Dec. 4, 2019 consent decree with Pocomoke City and the newly-announced consent decree with the Worcester County Sheriff and the state of Maryland (which is subject to court approval), Pocomoke City and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office must review and revise their existing anti-discrimination policies and procedures and implement effective policies to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of race and retaliation. These resolutions further require Pocomoke City and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office to develop effective policies that ensure employees understand how to report potentially discriminatory or retaliatory behavior and that supervisory staff understands its responsibility to report such complaints through the appropriate investigatory process. Pocomoke City agreed to pay a total of $1,101,003.00 to the former officers to resolve all claims against it. The Worcester County Sheriff, in his official capacity, and the State of Maryland agreed to pay an additional $100,000.00 to Savage, in resolution of his claims against those employers.

All three former law enforcement officials filed charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Baltimore Field Office. The EEOC investigated the charges and found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that violations of Title VII had occurred. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts by the EEOC, the charges were referred by the EEOC to the Department of Justice. The former officers filed suit and the United States intervened in their suit. More information about the EEOC’s jurisdiction is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov

Attorneys assigned to the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division represented the United States in this matter. The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the jurisdiction of the Employment Litigation Section is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section /

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