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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Claims of Racial Bias May Stick to PA Police Chief

(CN) - A Pennsylvania police chief may be liable for preserving a hostile work environment toward a black officer, a federal judge ruled.

Larry Cooper began working as a police officer in Coatesville, Pa., in 1996, and became a corporal in 2002.

In a June 2012 complaint, Cooper says that Coatesville and Police Chief Julius Canale intentionally discriminated against him because he is black. He says he faced a hostile work environment, was denied promotions, and held to harsher disciplinary standards than those to which white officers were held.

Canale allegedly personally participated in and condoned the discrimination, according to the complaint. Cooper says Canale conspired with a group of six police officers nicknamed the Dirty Half-Dozen to deprive Cooper of his civil rights.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III refused to dismiss most claims Thursday, striking only one claim against Canale under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act.

Canale failed to show that Cooper did not avail himself of the police department's grievance procedures and thus lacks standing.

"Whether or not plaintiff went through the internal police department grievance procedure, he has sufficiently pleaded the existence of a policy or custom of discrimination within the department," Bartle wrote. "Specifically, he has alleged that the chief of police participated in and condoned the purported discriminatory acts against plaintiff."

Bartle also brushed aside Canale's claim that Cooper failed to plead facts leading to a race-based civil rights conspiracy.

"Defendants do not point out how plaintiff's complaint is deficient in this regard," the six-page opinion states. "Plaintiff has plainly alleged an agreement among Canale and the so-called 'Dirty Half-Dozen' to deprive plaintiff of his civil rights on the basis of his race. As such, we find defendants' contention without merit and will allow plaintiff to proceed with his § 1985 claim."

The court did not assess whether a two-year statute of limitations bars Cooper's claims.

"Upon review of the complaint, it is impossible at this stage to determine whether any or all of the claims fall outside the statute of limitations or whether the continuing violations doctrine is applicable," the ruling states. "We will allow those claims to proceed to the discovery phase without prejudice to defendants' right to reassert at the appropriate time the issue of statute of limitations."

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