Police Chief Applicant Loses Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

Vicky Arrington was hired by Alabama State University as a police investigator in 2002. In 2003, Arrington began serving as interim Chief of Police after the Chief and his second in command were deployed to Iraq. In 2005, the Chief’s position became open upon the retirement of the incumbent Chief.

Arrington was one of the candidates for the permanent chief’s job. In the end, the vice president of the University selected an outside candidate for the job, writing that “given the history of the Police Department, and its ongoing proclivity for internal strife, dissension, and demonstrated anti-managerial orientations and ambitions, at the expense of the Department’s effectiveness in the University’s image, a case is made for an appointment from without the Department.”

Two weeks later, the University’s director of human resources wrote a memorandum to the University president asking that the chief’s application process be reopened. The human resources director wrote that some of the vice-president’s comments “encouraged potential litigation, in particular, his comments regarding the climate of the Police Department.” The human resources director suggested that the University should give some level of deference to Arrington as the University’s first female police chief.

The University decided to reopen the application process for police chief. Arrington was one of six candidates who applied for the job. In the end, the University selected Jeffrey Young to be its Police Chief. Arrington then filed a lawsuit against the University contending that she was not selected because of her gender.

A federal court dismissed Arrington’s lawsuit. The Court found that Arrington had to prove that the University’s stated reason – that Young was the best candidate for the job – was a pretext for an actual discriminatory motive. To make such a showing, Arrington was required to show that “the disparities between the successful applicants’ and her own qualifications were of such weight and significance that no reasonable person, in the exercise of impartial judgment, could have chosen the candidate selected over the other applicant.”

The Court found that Arrington could not make such a showing. The Court commented that “Young had extensive experience that arguably surpassed Arrington’s: He was the Deputy Chief of Police at Auburn University for 11 years, and Arrington served as interim Police Chief for only two years. Further, the job posting plainly stated a preference for candidates who already have a master’s degree in one of several particular relevant fields. Arrington was working towards a master’s degree in counseling, which was not among the preferred fields enumerated in the job posting; Young, in contrast, had a master’s degree in criminal justice, one of the preferred fields.

“In light of this record, Young was not so much less qualified than Arrington that no reasonable fact finder could chose him over her. Thus, Arrington has not carried her burden of showing that the University decided not to hire her because of her gender.”

Arrington v. Alabama State University, 2008 WL 5071735 (M.D.Ala. 2008).

This article appears in the February 2009 issue