University of Washington Hit with $16 Million Verdict in Landmark Racism Lawsuit by Black Police Officers

Seattle, Washington – The University of Washington has been ordered to pay a $16 million verdict by a King County jury after five Black university police officers filed a lawsuit detailing years of racist comments and discrimination by white supervisors and colleagues. This six-week trial included testimony from numerous witnesses, including university President Ana Mari Cauce, who attested to dozens of instances of hostility and racism towards the Black officers. Toby Marshall, the officers’ attorney, celebrated the verdict as a triumph for racial justice, asserting that it exposed “discrimination within the department at personal risk.”

According to the 2021 complaint and trial testimony, the officers were subjected to routine racial slurs and a hostile work environment. One of the allegations was the use of a racist slur by police supervisors, and one officer discovered a banana and racist note near her locker. The lawsuit claimed that the university administration was aware of these issues but failed to address them adequately. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that a group of white police officers had targeted and eventually ousted the department’s first Black police chief, with some openly complaining about the hiring of too many Black officers. The university-sponsored investigation into the matter did not consider racism as a motivating factor, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint detailed more than 100 separate incidents of what the officers described as “rampant, pervasive discrimination and retaliation” by their colleagues and supervisors. The plaintiffs included five officers, one of whom was the force’s only Black woman. The lawsuit also claimed that two of the officers experienced acts of intimidation directed at their personal property, such as a window being shot out at one officer’s home and another officer’s car having its brake lines cut.

While the university expressed disappointment with the verdict, citing new Police Department leadership and emphasizing that the alleged issues occurred largely under previous leadership, they are currently reviewing their options, including the possibility of an appeal. The university statement maintained that the allegations were deeply disturbing and contradictory to their commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community.

The lawsuit argued that a racist culture had existed within the department for decades and was worsened by the university’s decision to hire a Black police chief in 2009. Complaints from officers and supervisors about the chief’s hiring of “unqualified” officers were seen by the plaintiffs as a critique of his decision to hire Black officers, including themselves, who all had prior law enforcement experience. The lawsuit contended that these criticisms ultimately led to the chief being forced out.

Of the five officers involved in the lawsuit, only one remains with the University of Washington Police Department. This verdict serves as a landmark decision, shedding light on the claimed systemic discrimination and racial hostility faced by Black officers within the department.

In conclusion, the University of Washington has been found liable for $16 million in a jury verdict favoring five Black university police officers who exposed a pattern of racism and discrimination by white supervisors and colleagues. This lawsuit highlighted instances of racist slurs, intimidation, and a failure to address systemic discrimination. The university has expressed disappointment in the verdict and is considering its legal options moving forward. This case brings attention to the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the workplace and underscores the importance of addressing issues of discrimination and creating a more inclusive and equitable environment.