Boston Settles Discrimination Lawsuit for $2.6 Million with Black Police Officers
The city of Boston has reached a $2.6 million settlement to resolve a long-standing federal discrimination case against Black police officers.
The city of Boston has reached a $2.6 million settlement to resolve a long-standing federal discrimination lawsuit involving a controversial hair test employed to identify drug use, announced attorneys representing Black police officers on Nov. 16.
The officers initiated the lawsuit in 2005, asserting that the city’s hair test was inherently discriminatory, as it disproportionately affected Black individuals due to their hair’s heightened susceptibility to false positives. Both the city and the testing company employed by the Boston Police Department vehemently denied any racial bias in the testing procedures.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals considered the case on two occasions. In 2014, the court concurred that the hair test disproportionately impacted Black officers. Two years later, it found sufficient evidence to indicate that the city persisted in using the test despite being informed of a less discriminatory alternative.
The case proceeded to trial in 2018, leading to subsequent mediation and, ultimately, the recently announced settlement.
Oren Sellstrom, a representative from Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit that advocated for the officers, remarked, “This settlement puts an end to a long, ugly chapter in Boston’s history. As a result of this flawed test, our clients’ lives and careers were completely derailed. The city has finally compensated them for this grave injustice.”
The Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, also a plaintiff in the case, echoed concerns over the lasting impact of the hair test on the diversity of the police force. In a release, Jeffrey Lopes, association president, stated, “The city is still trying to make up for the loss of diversity on the police force that resulted from use of the hair test.”
The city’s decision to abandon the contentious test in 2021 preceded the resolution of damages paid to three Black officers and a cadet, all of whom either lost their jobs or faced disciplinary actions as a consequence of the test. Although the case file acknowledged the settlement, specific details were not formally filed.
Attempts to obtain comments from the Boston Police Department and the agency’s lead attorney were unsuccessful.