Sensitivity Training A Reasonable Response To Allegation Of Harassment

Kalonji Osaze was a police officer with the City of Strongsville, Ohio. When Osaze was terminated for infractions of the Department’s rules, he brought a lawsuit alleging, among other things, racial harassment.

Osaze complained of three incidents involving explicitly racial comments. First, an officer posted a sheet of paper containing a printed caricature named “Afroman,” with the words “I didn’t steal shit, jive cracker!” added to it. Second, an officer commented during roll call that he could not meet with another officer “because of some dumb or stupid Afro-man meeting.” Third, Osaze received a voice mail message stating “Afro-Man Mother Fucker!”

The Ohio Court of Appeals rejected Osaze’s racial harassment claims. The Court cited the fact that the officer who added the words to the caricature in the first incident was warned that his conduct violated the Department’s racial discrimination policy and was sent to sensitivity training. In the second incident, the Court observed that the officer in question was counseled to be more careful in his choice of words. Finally, with respect to the third incident, the Department conducted an investigation and determined that the message was left by a Cleveland police officer. The investigating Strongsville officer recommended that the matter be referred to the internal affairs office of the Cleveland Police Department.

All of this taken together, the Court found, constituted “reasonable corrective action” on the part of the Department. As such, the Court held, Osaze’s racial harassment lawsuit should be dismissed.

Osaze v. City of Strongsville, 2006 WL 562186 (OhioApp. 2006).

This article appears in the April 2006 issue