Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Cop Sues City for Discrimination After Ancestry.com Genetic Test

A police officer in Michigan has filed a discrimination lawsuit against his department, the chief of police, and a few other officers. While officers filing discrimination lawsuits against their department is nothing new, this case is a little bit different.

The plaintiff, Cleon Brown, appears to be Caucasian, however, a recent Ancestry.com genetic test revealed that he was in fact 18% African. When Brown revealed this information to his colleagues within department, he alleges that he became the subject of ridicule and harassment. After he submitted a complaint to the EEOC, he started facing retaliation in the form of denied career advancement opportunities.

Illegal Discrimination Is Illegal Discrimination

This case is legally fascinating due to the fact that Cleon Brown clearly appears to be white, and the conduct he is complaining of comes from other white officers. However, Brown's African roots do not necessarily put him in a protected class due to race, however, it can put him in a protected class due to national origin, ethnicity, and even for having revealed genetic information. Some of the overt, discriminatory acts include:

  • Officers whispered "black lives matter" to Brown as they walked by
  • The chief referred to Brown as Kunta
  • Officers used racial slurs and made race jokes

After complaining to the EEOC, Brown was denied training opportunities, and asked to step down from his current post into a lower position. Furthermore, discrimination does not have to occur across racial, or ethnic, lines. A white person can be found liable for discriminating against another white person. Additionally, the perpetrators do not need to be accurate in their harassment. For instance, using a slur meant for another ethnicity does not insulate discriminatory conduct.

Department Denies Allegations, Blames and Shames Victim

Perhaps what's more shocking than the lawsuit itself, is the city and department's reaction to the lawsuit. In a long statement released to the media, the department blames Brown, going to painstaking lengths to explain that they believe he brought the harassment and ridicule upon himself.

The city's statement goes through the legal test for race discrimination to attempt to demonstrate that Brown could not prevail. However, curiously absent from the statement is any analysis for retaliation for reporting the discrimination, as well as a lack of analysis for claims of national origin, ethnicity, or genetic information discrimination.

Related Resources: