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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Racial Bias Claims May Stick to Chicago Mayor

CHICAGO (CN) - Mayor Rahm Emmanuel must face a lawsuit from white and Latino police officers on his security team who were allegedly replaced with political favorites, a federal judge ruled.

The 11 plaintiffs are former members of Unit 542, a specially selected group of officers who serve as security specialists to the mayor of Chicago and other dignitaries. This position also comes with a higher salary and increased benefits.

When Emanuel was elected mayor in 2011, several police officers who were not security specialists were assigned to protect him.

These officers were not officially promoted, but were allowed to "act up" into the position, allegedly because of their involvement in Emanuel's political campaign.

As Emanuel's inauguration approached, Officer John Pigott allegedly asked Unit Commander Brian Thompson what factors he would use to determine which officers stayed on as security specialists.

Thompson, a black man, told the not-black Pigott that "the color of your skin is your sin," according to the complaint.

Eight plaintiffs, all of white or Hispanic descent, were demoted from their security-specialist positions without explanation in May 2011.

They claim that no black officers were demoted, and that they were replaced by officers with political ties to Emanuel.

The officers' fourth amended complaint added Mayor Rahm Emanuel and two of his advisers, Sarah Pang and Michael Faulman, as defendants, alleging that they "personally participated in the process" of demoting the officers.

It also named Chicago Police Department higher-ups who allegedly chose the replacement security specialists, including Superintendent Gary McCarthy, First Deputy James Jackson, Assistant Superintendent of Administration Beatrice Cuello, Chief of Patrol Eugene Williams, and Deputy Superintendent Debra Kirby.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber refused to dismiss the action last week.

"It is plausible that some or all of defendants participated in various ways: for example, it is conceivable that the mayor had some input over which officers would form his personal security detail, and Pang and Faulman, as advisors, could have helped the mayor reach that decision or decide whether and how to demote plaintiffs," he wrote. "These allegations raise the right to relief above the speculative level."

Although the complaint does not say what specific discriminatory actions each individual defendant took against the officers, "it is unreasonable to expect plaintiffs to know, at this point, the nature or extent of each defendant's involvement in the adverse employment action," the March 26 ruling states.

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