No Obligation For Police Union To Provide Legal Defense In All Cases

The Dallas, Texas Police Association, though it has no collective bargaining rights, does represent its members in legal proceedings concerning all aspects of their employment with the City of Dallas. The Association maintains a set of guidelines to assist members in understanding which legal fees the Association will pay for, and what the “caps” are for particular types of proceedings.

In addition to the guidelines, the Association provides legal fees without a monetary limit if the legal issue impacts a significant number of Association members or is directly related to retaliation against an Association member for engaging in Association activities. Recently, the Association provided open-ended financing to “skip promotion” cases, in which Caucasian police officers alleged that the Police Department promoted minority police officers over more qualified Caucasian police officers.

The Department terminated Officer Harold Cornish in 1999. Cornish asked the Association to finance an appeal of his termination. At some point, Cornish requested “non-guideline” funding, stating that it was impossible to predict the litigation costs. In response, the Association offered to finance Cornish’s lawsuit for up to $5,000. After dismissing that offer as inadequate, Cornish, acting pro se, filed suit against the City of Dallas in 2004. The case is currently pending.

At some point, Cornish was indicted on five criminal counts. Each was eventually dismissed. Cornish asked for $25,000 from the Association for his defense; it denied his request. Two other police associations provided him legal representation on the criminal charges at no cost.

Cornish sued the Association in federal court, claiming that it denied him funding on the basis of his race. A federal trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The Court’s approach followed standard discrimination law. As the Court recited, Cornish could prove a prima facie case if he showed that (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he qualified for the Association’s union assistance; (3) he was denied the Association’s assistance; and (4) similarly-situated individuals, not in the protected class, received the Association’s assistance. The Court found that Cornish could not meet the fourth of these tests.

Cornish alleged that in the “skip promotion” cases Caucasian police officers received the same union assistance Cornish asked for. Because both the Caucasian police officers and Cornish were members of the Association suing the Department under a race discrimination theory, Cornish contended that the officers involved in the “skip promotion” cases were similarly-situated to him.

The Court was not convinced. The Court reasoned that “Cornish alleges that he was fired after he was (1) indicted for five criminal violations (which were cleared and expunged), (2) issued a citation (which was cleared and expunged), and (3) charged with approximately 13 administrative violations. Whatever the stated reasons for his termination, Cornish alleges that his termination was racially discriminatory. The mere fact that the skip promotion cases also concerned race discrimination does not make the skip promotion plaintiffs similarly-situated to Cornish.

“Cornish has made no attempt to connect the particulars of his discrimination case against the Department to the particulars of the skip promotion cases. The skip promotion cases did not concern terminations, and the discrimination alleged in the skip promotion cases could plainly affect every Caucasian officer who sought promotion. Except in a vague conclusory way, Cornish has not shown how his case could affect a similar number of police officers.”

Cornish v. Dallas Police Association, 2005 WL 3434390 (N.D.Tex. 2005).

This article appears in the March 2006 issue