Controversial Former Milwaukee Police Chief Loses Race Discrimination Lawsuit

Arthur Jones, the former police chief for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was one of the most controversial big-city police chiefs in the country during his brief tenure. Jones recently lost a lawsuit against the City in which he was seeking $2 million plus punitive damages on the allegations of racial discrimination.

Jones was appointed Police Chief in November 1996 by the Fire and Police Commission. Jones was backed by John Norquist, Milwaukee’s mayor.

Jones alleged that in December 1999, he refused Norquist’s request to persuade a female City employee not to file a sexual harassment claim against Norquist. Jones contended that from that time onward, the mayor subjected him to public attacks and poor performance reviews. Jones, who is African-American, contended that he was harassed and held to standards that were not imposed upon any prior police chiefs, none of whom were African-American.

After Norquist was reelected, he formed the Milwaukee Anti-Crime Commission. Jones was a member, as were many community leaders. Jones refused to adopt the recommendations of the Commission and, as a result, received a less than favorable performance review for the year 2000.

Shortly thereafter, a local newspaper reported that arrests were dropping while Jones’ internal investigations for police personnel were increasing. In 2001, Robert Welch, who was the chairman of the Fire and Police Commission, began to publicly criticize Jones for such things as his budget and the internal investigations.
Jones accused Welch of calling him “Ace” during one heated exchange. Jones regards this word as racially derogatory, interpreting it to refer to the ace of spades. Jones, in turn, called Norquist “Massa” and called two African-American members of the Commission “Uncle Toms.”

Eventually, relations between the mayor, members of the Commission, and Jones deteriorated to a point where Norquist asked Jones to quit. In April 2002, Jones refused to appear for his performance review. After four people were murdered in Milwaukee on a single day in November 2002, the Commission directed Jones to prepare a plan for reducing homicides in gun-related crimes.

Jones argued that Norquist’s crime initiatives were all undertaken to make Jones look bad in the African-American community. Jones alleged that Norquist told groups that Jones did not care about the escalating homicides. The City eventually gave up on Jones, and refused to appoint him to a second term as Chief of Police. Jones responded by filing a lawsuit alleging that the City’s decisions were motivated by racial discrimination.

A federal court dismissed Jones’ lawsuit. The Court found that “Jones has not raised a triable issue as to whether he was subjected to an adverse employment action. The hostile atmosphere he describes in hyperbolic terms is supported mainly by his own opinions. He has cited no law establishing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was meant to shield high-level public officials of job-related public criticism by other government officials. No reasonable jury could find that the City created objectively severe hardships for Jones in the workplace.”

Jones also contended that the City deprived him of his constitutional “liberty” interest in his good name by engaging in a course of defamation. The Court was unimpressed by this argument, holding that “there is no protected liberty interest in reputation alone; the employment status must be distinctly altered or extinguished to trigger due process protection. In the situation at hand, Jones was not dismissed, nor was he transferred or demoted to an inferior position. He points out that he was not rehired after his term expired. However, he does not allege that he was foreclosed from any other job opportunities. Jones has submitted nothing to establish it is virtually impossible for him to find new employment in his chosen field. Consequently, he cannot obtain relief on his due process claim that he was deprived of occupational liberty.”

Jones v. City of Milwaukee, 2005 WL 2922191 (E.D.Wis. 2005).

This article appears in the December 2005 issue