Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes is suing the city for civil-rights violations, demanding a jury trial, with Police Chief Jose L. Lopez and City Manager Tom Bonfield named co-defendants.
Forbes’ attorney, Caitlyn Thomson, filed the suit late Tuesday afternoon. Forbes claims he was passed over for promotion because of complaints he had made about discrimination in the Police Department.
He also claims Bonfield and Lopez were “willful and wanton” in “reckless disregard” for his right to be free from “unlawful race discrimination ... in the workplace.”
Bonfield did not immediately respond, while Lopez referred a request for comment to City Attorney Patrick Baker.
“I wouldn’t be able to give you one,” Lopez said.
Thomson said the suit had not been formally served as of Wednesday afternoon, but she had sent Baker a copy as a professional courtesy. Baker said he had no comment on the suit, which he had not read in its entirety.
“We’ll respond to the allegations and look forward to defending the city in this matter,” he said.
The suit follows a discrimination complaint Forbes filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last August, citing discrimination on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In response to the complaint, the EEOC investigated and on April 30 the U.S. Department of Justice issued a “Notice of right to sue within 90 days.”
“It's just a standard form letter from USDOJ,” Thomson said. “In cases against government employers ... the EEOC does an investigation, but USDOJ reviews it and then issues the right to sue letter.”
Issuing the notice, according to both Thomson and Baker, ends any federal involvement with Forbes’ complaint.
“If the DOJ were going to take the case they wouldn’t issue a right to sue, they’d just take it on their own,” Baker said. “But if they’re not inclined to do that, for whatever reason, then ... their choosing or not choosing doesn’t really have any bearing on the allegations themselves.”
Thomson said the EEOC has jurisdiction to bring lawsuits on behalf of private-sector employees, but, though it handles complaint investigations, only the Department of Justice has authority to bring suit against a “government entity.”
“That almost never happens in individual discrimination cases,” she said.
Among Forbes’ allegations:
Forbes’ suit requests a jury trial and that the defendants be assessed punitive damages “exceeding $10,000,” and his attorney’s fees and other costs.
Once the complaint is served, Thomson said, the city has 30 days to respond and may request a 30-day extension. In the meantime, she said, Forbes is continuing his regular duties as assistant chief.
“He’s a professional,” Thomson said. “It’s somewhat awkward, obviously ... because everyone (else in the department) is talking about it.”