Police Chief Wins Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

During the first five months of 2011, April Overman tested, applied and interviewed for the position of police chief for the City of East Baton Rouge. The City advertised nationally to obtain applicants for the position in an announcement issued January 19, 2011. Since the position of police chief falls under the Louisiana state civil service laws, Overman and the other applicants took the state civil service police chief examination.

Overman scored a 96 on the test and was tied for the highest score with another applicant. Donald White, a male who was later selected for the position after a series of interviews with different committees, scored an 84, which was the 8th highest score.

Overman sued, claiming that the City’s decision not to hire her as police chief was because she is female. After a trial, a magistrate judge found that Overman was a victim of sex discrimination.

The Court began with a simple finding that Overman had proved the elements of a prima facie case of sex discrimination: “Plaintiff is female, was qualified for the position, and the defendants selected a male applicant for the position.”

The Court next held that Overman proved that “with regard to education, training and experience, Overman’s qualifications for the position were clearly superior to White’s qualifications. Both Overman and White possessed the minimum qualifications required by civil service to apply for the position of police chief. The Mayor testified that education was a factor he considered in selecting the new police chief. The highest educational level White attained was a high school diploma. Plaintiff had earned a bachelor’s degree in history, with magna cum laude honors, a master of arts degree in sociology, a law degree, and was enrolled in and close to completing the requirements for obtaining her doctoral degree in urban studies. The Mayor testified that a person could ‘get educated without getting all those degrees.’ Yet, he failed to explain how, without obtaining a college or other advanced degree, White was ‘educated’ beyond a high school level, or obtained an education comparable to that achieved by Overman. Based on the credible evidence, the only reasonable finding is that Overman’s educational level was clearly superior to White’s.”

The Court also found that Overman had far more specialty training than White. Overman’s application listed more than four pages recounting her law enforcement and legal training. By contrast, “White was certified in field sobriety testing and operation of Intoxilyzer 5000, but was not an instructor like Overman. White had some advanced and/or specialized training in accident investigation and other areas, but none of the training he listed indicated that he was an expert or a certified instructor. Of White’s one page list of training, more than half of the approximately 2,100 hours listed were composed of the basic academy training he completed 20 years ago to become a Baton Rouge city police officer and later a Louisiana state trooper. Overman did not include basic training in her list because this type of training was required to become a law enforcement officer.”

The Court also found that in contrast to White’s background, “as a patrol officer, narcotics detective and supervisor Overman remained in city policing, dealing with urban crime and crime problems for her entire law enforcement career. Overman was promoted to supervisory positions beginning in 1991 when she became a sergeant. Overman was promoted to lieutenant in 2004, and then captain in 2005, which was the rank she held until her retirement in July 2010. In approximately 19 years as a supervisor, Overman regularly conducted disciplinary investigations of officers, and investigated citizen complaints against officers from start to finish. Plaintiff was a commander and supervisor in divisions pertaining to narcotics intelligence analysis, DWI enforcement, crime analysis, traffic fatality investigation, information technology, records and criminal history, reserve division/crisis transportation, and central evidence and property. Some of her supervision duties involved working with multi-million dollar budgets. At the time of her application, Overman had 25 years of inner-city police enforcement experience. Except for the nine months Overman was in research and planning doing entirely administrative work, Overman either worked in or supervised units dealing with urban crime and crime-related issues.”

Also important to the Court was what happened in Overman’s interview. “The Mayor’s testimony that he did not ask gender-specific questions, did not address Overman and say ‘what about the men,’ or ‘let’s talk about men,’ and did not ask how she would deal with the men in the police department, is not credible. There is no credible basis to believe the Mayor’s statements that gender was not a factor in his decision. The fact that the Mayor asked Overman to talk about men and how she would deal with men in the police department, and stated that he ‘felt, frankly, that would be a bad setting to have in a police department to begin with, if you’ve had adversarial relationships in another department,’ establish that he believed the unverified rumors that Overman had problems with supervisors and others in the New Orleans Police Department because she was a woman. The Court finds that Overman’s gender was the reason he chose White and rejected Overman for the position.”

The Court awarded Overman damages in the amount of $272,148, plus interest and attorney fees.

Overman v. City of East Baton Rouge, 2015 WL 5598324 (M.D. La. 2015).