Two black Brookline police officers have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court alleging the town has failed to address racial discrimination within the department, their attorneys said Monday.
The suit by Officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun demands that the department take steps to correct what they call pervasive discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliatory treatment within the department.
“We have raised issues of racially discriminatory treatment to town officials on many occasions, but nothing has been done to remedy the situation,” Pilot said in a statement issued by his attorneys at Fair Work PC and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “We are now seeking outside intervention to help bring about change.”
The officers have been off the job since first going public with their allegations in December.
Named as defendants in the suit are the town, the five members of the Board of Selectmen, and Police Chief Daniel O’Leary. The complaint seeks damages for both officers.
Joslin Ham Murphy, Brookline’s town counsel, said Monday that the town had not yet received a copy of the complaint, but that “we fully anticipate that the town and Chief O’Leary will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
“The town cares about Officer Zerai-Misgun and Officer Pilot, their safety, and their dignity,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary has been working diligently to resolve this situation with both officers’ concerns being addressed, enabling them to go back to work in a manner in which they are comfortable. We had hoped that they could be addressed through mediation.”
In addition, she wrote, O’Leary “has undertaken and implemented a number of steps to help foster a more cohesive work environment.”
The suit describes at least five instances of racist comments and behavior within the predominantly white department that the officers say went unpunished despite being first reported over a year ago.
It also says the town has tried to “sweep the allegations under the rug” and generally maintained a “business-as-usual” attitude rather than addressing racial issues. This includes selectmen objecting to a statement written by the town’s diversity commission that described a “culture of institutional racism” in town.
Instead of acting, the suit alleges, selectmen put “relentless pressure [publicly and privately] on the Diversity Commission to recant its statement.”
After at least two meetings in which the statement was debated, the commission ultimately clarified that its statement accusing the Board of Selectmen of allowing a “culture of institutional racism to exist through its past hiring practices” was not based on a formal investigation.
The officers filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in February.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at email@example.com.