A federal judge has tossed out a former Fort Worth police lieutenant’s lawsuit claiming he was a victim of racial discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation, canceling a trial scheduled to begin later this month.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said Elridge Edney, who retired in April 2015, didn’t provide sufficient evidence to show that former Police Chief Jeff Halstead was the final policymaker in denying his transfer after complaining about the racially charged atmosphere within the department.
While his summary judgment dismissed the lawsuit against the city, O’Connor left open the door for Edney’s claims against Halstead individually to go forward if he decided to do so by Friday. Edney was seeking $1.5 million in damages. O’Connor made his ruling Monday.
Ray Jackson, Edney’s Dallas attorney, did not return messages seeking comment. Halstead also declined to comment.
Fort Worth City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider said she could not comment on the judge’s decision.
In his lawsuit, Edney alleged that he was unfairly transferred from the traffic division in August 2013 and denied a position in the economics unit after being targeted by higher-ups in the department who accused him of having allegiances with other officers who had made similar complaints.
He claimed his troubles began after a 2010 incident in which three sergeants allegedly built and photographed a snowman — with a police cap, a noose around its neck and a banana in its hand — outside traffic headquarters. Two of the sergeants received a commander’s admonishment for the incident, which led to discord among supervisors.
Edney had initially joined two other African-American officers in filing a lawsuit against the city and Halstead, but his claim was later separated from that lawsuit and made into its own legal filing.
Reasons for ruling
In seeking the summary judgment, the city’s attorneys denied that Edney’s role as witness in a sergeant’s hostile work environment complaint, nor his own complaint to human resources, played any part in his transfer or his not being selected for the economics unit position a year later.
They argued that Assistant Chief Abdul Pridgen decided to transfer Edney because of his failed leadership in the traffic division and at the recommendation of a captain who felt changes were needed to resolve personnel issues that had “festered” under Edney’s leadership.
They also argued that his transfer to patrol was a lateral move and not a demotion and that Edney was not granted the economics job because he did not complete the needed requirements in applying.
“Edney has attempted to make a federal case out of disrespect and not getting what he wanted, when he wanted it,” city attorneys argued in their motion for the summary judgment.
In issuing his decision, O’Connor pointed out that to make claim for damages against the city, Edney “must allege that there was a violation of a constitutional right, the moving force of which is an official policy or custom created by a policymaker with final policymaking authority.”
Though Edney claimed that Halstead was a policymaker, O’Connor stated that Edney’s own allegations that other officers had complained to Halstead’s supervisors — an assistant city manager and mayor’s office — undercut the idea that Halstead’s decisions were “final.”
Other lawsuits filed
Edney had been one of seven African-American officers who filed suit against the city alleging civil rights violations.
▪ Officer Antoine Williams filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Halstead, alleging he was the victim of race discrimination, harassment and a hostile work environment. Previously, Williams was arrested and later fired by the Police Department after allegations arose that he had stolen four pairs of Nike sneakers and a video game during a police raid on a known drug house. A jury later acquitted him of the theft accusations. The city filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit, which was granted by a federal judge in August 2015. An arbitration hearing regarding Williams’ appeal of his termination is ongoing.
▪ Sgts. Roy Hudson and Dwayne Dalco filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Halstead alleging racial discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation. The lawsuit alleged Halstead ordered an internal affairs investigation of the two sergeants after they met with Assistant City Manager Charles Daniel in February 2013 to determine if the meeting violated the city’s meet-and-confer agreement. Though informed by internal affairs that no violation had occurred, the lawsuit alleges Halstead ordered another white officer to file a formal complaint so the investigation would continue. The lawsuit is pending.
▪ Sgt. Delbert Johnson filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Halstead and retired Sgt. Dave Stamp alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Johnson alleged Stamp led a campaign to ruin him after two other sergeants were admonished for their role in the snowman incident. He alleged that Halstead later discriminated and retaliated against him by transferring him from the traffic division. The lawsuit is pending.
▪ Officers James Dunn and Maurice Middleton filed a federal lawsuit in July 2015 against the city and Halstead, claiming they were targeted in a traffic ticket investigation and ultimately fired in retaliation for their complaining to supervisors and internal affairs about the snowman incident. This week, a federal judge granted portions of the city’s motion for summary judgment but denied others. The former officers have until March 21 to re-plead their dismissed claims. Dunn and Middleton both appealed their termination from the department. Those appeals are still pending.