11/09/2005

Retired Calif. lieutenant loses discrimination suit

By Karl Fischer   
CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Retired Richmond police Lt. Tommie Phillips spent two years taking his former employer to task because his career did not end the way he had hoped.

The federal lawsuit in San Francisco didn't go his way either.

A U.S. District Court jury took less than an hour to reject claims of gender discrimination and workplace retaliation brought by Phillips, the department's former head of internal affairs, against the city and former Police Chief Joseph Samuels Jr.

"It was a close case," said attorney William Hanson, who represented Phillips. "We lost, but my client had his day in court. He was able to address what he believed was unfair treatment and discrimination."

Phillips, a 31-year department veteran, claimed Samuels promoted a less senior lieutenant to captain in 2002 out of political consideration. Lori Ritter became the first woman to achieve the rank in Richmond.

He also claimed a hostile work environment forced him to retire in 2003, brought about by his behind-the-scenes push for Samuels to investigate a purported increase in citizen complaints against officers.

"Frankly, there was very little evidence supporting any of the claims," said assistant city attorney Bruce Soublet, who represented Richmond at the trial. "All of the documents submitted were authored by him, and they basically just expressed his opinions."

Judge Phyllis Hamilton dismissed Phillips' claims for punitive damages after the plaintiff's case rested last week, Soublet said.

Phillips made a $1.8 million claim against the city before filing his suit.

Early trial testimony focused on Phillips' qualifications as a police manager. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1985 and applied for a captaincy five times over the years.

Despite his claims of gender bias, witnesses involved in the promotion process during Phillips' last attempt said he consistently placed low on the list of applicants, while Ritter consistently ranked among the top candidates.

Ritter, who testified at the trial, said Tuesday she felt vindicated.

"I was very disappointed to see this action go forward as a gender-bias complaint. In the 100-year history of this police department, only three women have ever been promoted," Ritter said.

Ritter, a 24-year department veteran, supervises the department's administrative division. The department and her co-workers have been consistently supportive, she said.

Retired Lt. Eva Wilson and Sgt. Lori Curran are the only other women ever promoted beyond the rank of officer in Richmond.

Several past and present police managers and city officials testified during the week long trial, including Mayor Irma Anderson.

Phillips was one of Richmond's first black police managers. During the early 1990s he was closely associated with the department's first community policing programs.

 Contra Costa Times (http://www.contracostatimes.com/)

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