No ‘Comparators’ To Officer Who Drove Car Into House

Charles Ramirez began working for the Saginaw, Michigan Police Department in 1991. While off duty on March 23, 2001, Ramirez was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Acknowledging that he had a drinking problem, Ramirez pled guilty to the charged offense. The City referred Ramirez to an employee assistance program for alcohol abuse, which Ramirez completed. The Department also undertook an internal affairs investigation, which resulted in the Department suspending Ramirez for five days.

Several years passed without incident. However, in the early morning hours of August 16, 2008, Ramirez crashed his vehicle into the side of a home. The woman sleeping within the home was knocked from her bed, but was uninjured. The home, however, sustained significant damage. A blood test revealed that Ramirez’s blood alcohol content to be .22 percent, a little less than three times the legal limit.

When the Department employer learned of the incident, it immediately placed Ramirez on paid administrative leave, informing him he should not report to work on his next scheduled shift. Independent of the Department’s actions, Ramirez sought out and entered an alcohol abuse treatment program. Unlike the employee assistance program Ramirez entered in 2001, however, the alcohol abuse treatment program he entered in 2008 was not suggested by (or sponsored by) the City. Ramirez’s therapist, Dr. John Evans, diagnosed Ramirez as an alcoholic suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder caused by traumatic events Ramirez had experienced as a police officer.

When the Department eventually fired Ramirez, he challenged the termination in federal court, asserting he was the victim of race and disability discrimination.

The Court dismissed Ramirez’s lawsuit. The Court found that to state a viable claim, Ramirez was required to show that he was treated differently than “similarly situated employees.” The Court noted that “to be deemed ‘similarly situated,’ the individuals with whom Ramirez seeks to compare his treatment must have dealt with the same supervisor, have been subject to the same standards and have engaged in the same conduct without such differentiating or mitigating circumstances that would distinguish their conduct or the employer’s treatment of them for it.”

Trying to meet this burden, Ramirez pointed to five Caucasian officers who allegedly had alcohol-related incidents, yet were not discharged. The Court found none of the five comparisons apt. As to the first officer, the Court found that the other officer, who was involved in two collisions, “was not intoxicated – his BAC was only .07 and it appeared that his leaving the scene was a result of his head injury and not alcohol.”

The Court dismissed the second officer pointed to by Martinez because the officer “did not repeat his misconduct, as did Ramirez.” The Court found that the third officer, who was involved in a single verbal altercation with a patron, was “not the same as being arrested and charged with operating while impaired on two separate occasions.”

Martinez’s fourth comparator – an officer arrested for drunk driving before he was hired – fared no better. The Court concluded that “a single offense of drunk driving is quantitatively and qualitatively different than the repeated conduct which resulted in Ramirez’s termination.” Finally, the Court found that Martinez failed to offer any substantive evidence concerning a fifth comparator, who Martinez claimed had appeared at the scene of a crime, while off duty and while intoxicated.

All in all, the Court concluded that “Ramirez does not state a prima facie case of race discrimination because he does not identify any similarly situated employees outside the protected class who engaged in the same conduct without such differentiating or mitigating circumstances that would distinguish their conduct or the employer’s treatment of them for it.”

Ramirez v. City of Saginaw, 2011 WL 6309158 (E.D. Mich. 2011).

This article appears in the February 2012 issue.