Black Police Chief Wins Retaliation Lawsuit After Being Fired For Hiring White Assistant

Rodney Tureaud, who is African-American, was the Police Chief for the Grambling State University Police Department in Louisiana. Tureaud attempted to hire Wesley Harris, who is Caucasian, for the position of Assistant Chief. When delays occurred in the hiring process, Tureaud began to suspect the University did not want to hire Harris because of his race.

Tureaud spoke with Dr. Angela Weaver, the executive assistant to the President of Grambling, who expressed her disapproval that Harris had previously been employed by the Ruston Police Department, which she perceived as “racist.” Weaver recommended hiring a black man and training him instead of Harris. Tureaud was told by other persons within the University community and the community at large that he would “never be allowed to hire a white assistant police chief for Grambling.”

Eventually, the University fired Tureaud. Tureaud responded by filing a lawsuit, contending he was the victim of retaliation for his opposition to the discrimination against Harris. A federal court jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Tureaud, awarding him $140,000 for compensatory damages, $187,00 for past loss of income, $27,500 for future loss of income, and deducted $132,000 for Tureaud’s failure to mitigate his damages, for a total recovery of $225,000.

The University appealed, contending there was inadequate factual support for the jury’s decision. The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the University’s appeal.

The Court found that, though the University offered an alternate explanation for terminating Tureaud, “credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of the judge. The jury was entitled to credit Tureaud’s testimony regarding his opposition to the unlawful employment practice.”

The University also attacked that portion of the verdict awarding Tureaud $140,000 for compensatory damages. The Court upheld the award, citing Tureaud’s testimony that his discharge was an “emotionally embarrassing and painful experience that caused him to be deeply hurt because (1) he had never been discharged from a previous job; (2) he was part of a tight-knit law enforcement community and his discharge was the subject of gossip; (3) he was repeatedly questioned about the discharge by his peers and subsequent employers; and (4) he was unable to obtain suitable employment after his discharge. He further testified that he gained quite a bit of weight, was stressed, and ‘had the blues’ because of the discharge. The $140,000 in compensatory damages, while at the high end of the spectrum, is not clearly excessive.”

Tureaud v. Grambling State University, 2008 WL 4411438 (5th Cir. 2008).

This article appears in the December 2008 issue