Police Chief Loses Age Discrimination Claim

John Howell was the Chief of Police of the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Mayor Carl Redus and Howell disagreed as to how to address the high crime rate in the City. They had numerous, animated meetings and discussions about the manner in which the Police Department should attempt to reduce crime, particularly violent crime.

On March 8, 2010, Redus and Howell met, along with three deputy police chiefs and an assistant to the mayor. The meeting apparently was precipitated by a recent random shooting that was reflective of the ongoing problem of violent crime in Pine Bluff. Redus expressed dissatisfaction with the Police Department’s response to this ongoing problem. After some heated conversation, Howell made a statement to the effect that if Redus did not like the way he was doing his job then Redus could fire him. Redus accepted Howell’s challenge and fired him. Howell was 62 years old when he was fired.

Subsequently, Redus employed as interim chief a 61-year-old African American, whom Redus described as “an excellent, energetic, young man.” Redus later hired a 48-year-old African American woman as the permanent Chief of Police.

Howell sued the City, claiming he was the victim of age discrimination. A federal court viewed it differently, believing that the real reasons for Howell’s discharge were disagreements over law enforcement policy. The Court observed:

“One of Howell’s claims is that Redus fired him because he disagreed with Redus regarding policies for addressing violent crime in Pine Bluff. Howell says that Redus wanted him to direct Pine Bluff police officers to search for and seize guns without probable cause and that Redus fired him because he refused to adopt such a policy. By contending that he was fired because he would not adopt Redus’s plan for removing guns from the streets, Howell admits that age was not the reason.

“It is undisputed that Redus and Howell had ongoing, serious disagreements as to how to address Pine Bluff’s crime problem, that in the midst of one of those disagreements Howell challenged Redus to fire him in front of three deputy police chiefs, and that Redus accepted the challenge. With these facts being undisputed, Howell cannot show that the proffered reason for his termination is a pretext for discrimination based on age.

“Howell points to the fact that Redus described the interim chief as ‘an excellent, energetic, young man.’ Because the interim chief was only one year younger than Howell, that statement is hardly evidence that Redus regarded Howell as too old for the job. Howell also testified that Redus regularly expressed an interest in hiring college graduates, which Howell understood to mean recent graduates. Again, that evidence does not tend to show that the defendants’ proffered reason for terminating Howell is a pretext for age discrimination.”

Howell v. Redus, 2010 WL 5287430 (E.D. Ark. 2010).

This article appears in the March 2011 issue.