Panel orders police recruit reinstated
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has ordered the reinstatement of a black Boston police recruit who was fired for allegedly cheating during an exam, finding the department imposed “harsher discipline” on minority recruits than white ones.
The Dec. 28 ruling in the case of Claude Defay, a Dorchester resident of Haitian descent, also found the Boston Police Department could not provide “racially neutral reasons” for the disparate treatment.
In addition to reinstatement, commission hearing officer Betty E. Waxman ordered that Defay receive back pay if he completes all training requirements and an additional $40,000 for emotional distress brought on by the termination.
Waxman also ordered the Police Department to “cease and desist from the disparate treatment of recruits based on race.”
Defay, 35, praised the ruling in an interview Wednesday.
“I’m just really looking forward to becoming a Boston police officer,” said Defay, a University of Massachusetts graduate who currently works in banking. “Given my background, raised in Dorchester, I have a lot of respect for the Boston Police Department as a whole. They’re probably one of the best in the nation.”
A spokesman for Boston police, Lieutenant Michael McCarthy, said the department’s legal office is reviewing the ruling and has not decided whether to appeal. He said the commission, despite reinstating Defay, found he “was untruthful and dishonest during his training at the academy.”
“Integrity and honesty are two of the most important traits we expect our police trainees to possess,” McCarthy said in a statement. “It is disheartening that the MCAD found that Mr. Defay was untruthful and dishonest and ruled he deserves to be a police officer. We feel the public has a right to expect more from their police.”
According to Waxman’s ruling, she found “credible evidence” supporting the department’s claim that it had “sound reasons justifying [Defay’s] dismissal” for asking another recruit in a bathroom in March 2011 about a test question while he was still taking the final exam.
Defay declined to discuss the incident Wednesday.
“It remains a mystery why a recruit such as [Defay] . . . would have risked his career by discussing the final with a recruit whom he barely knew,” Waxman wrote.
However, she ordered Defay’s reinstatement in light of what she described as the department’s disparate discipline meted out to black and white recruits in incidents that she identified in the ruling.
Among the examples she cited were two white recruits who received only written warnings for fighting outside a bar in March 2011.
Waxman wrote that the Police Department contended the men did not commit a fireable offense because “they were just ‘horsing around,’ ” even though they “were brawling on the street in a manner” that violated department conduct rules and one recruit received medical treatment at a hospital.
Waxman also pointed to a case of another black recruit who was fired in December 2010 for untruthfulness for statements he made about uniform instructions, while a white recruit received no discipline for lying about shaving.
That same white recruit later received only an oral warning for drunkenly accosting a Boston police officer in public and a written warning three weeks later for running a red light while driving 60 miles per hour in a 40 miles per hour zone, Waxman wrote.
In justifying the $40,000 payout to Defay for emotional distress, Waxman noted that he described himself as being despondent after the firing. He also attended marriage counseling with his wife to “deal with the emotional turmoil” caused by the termination, Waxman wrote.
Defay, who also has a mixed martial arts background, obtained a salaried position at Santander Bank after his termination from the academy, according to the ruling.
He said Wednesday that the department has not given him a return date.
Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said the ruling reflects the continued issues the department is having with discrimination.
While police officials have touted gains in diversifying the ranks, Ellison said that “people should be outraged that in 2016 we do not have a Police Department reflective of the community it serves.”
The department is 66 percent white, even though African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians constitute 53 percent of the city’s population, according to a municipal report.