When Cleon Brown learned in an Ancestry.com DNA test that he had African heritage, the Michigan police officer “proudly” shared the information with his coworkers, according to a lawsuit he filed against Hastings City in April 2017.
He was just awarded $65,000 in that legal complaint, which originally asked for $500,000, according to WWMT. Brown accused his fellow officers, Police Chief Jeff Pratt and Hastings Mayor Frank Campbell of targeting him with racial harassment for his newfound heritage.
Brown told WDIV that the taunting was “straight-up racism,” while the city argued the officer had joked himself about his DNA results.
Brown, who served in the Army in Korea, is 30 percent combat disabled and has worked for the Hastings City Police Department since 1998, the lawsuit says. He learned from his Ancestry.com test in fall 2016 that he is 18 percent African — and that’s when the alleged harassment started.
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In his lawsuit, Brown said that Pratt, the police chief, brought him into the main office and called him the name of a slave character in the book Roots: The Saga of an American Family while other officers were in the room.
Some deputies laughed, the lawsuit says, while Brown said “I cannot believe you just called me that!”
The lawsuit lays out other instances of alleged harassment, including:
- Mayor Campbell joking that Brown will “be alright” when learning of his DNA results, and later telling him a joke that used the word “negroid” multiple times
- Some employees of the police department chanting “Black Lives Matter” and pumping fists at Brown
- A black Santa with “18%” on its beard being placed inside Brown’s Christmas stocking in the police department
- An officer sarcastically quipping that he doesn’t “want to offend anyone” after he said “Native American” and saw Brown
The officer said that his coworkers seemed surprised that he freely admitted to his black ancestry.
“It was almost a disgraced reaction I got from them like, ‘Why are you proud of this type of thing?’” he told WDIV.
Brown filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2017, according to the lawsuit, which claims that both Pratt and Hastings Deputy Chief of Police Dale Boulter “conducted highly coercive, offensive, intimidating employee interviews asking only leading questions.”
The lawsuit says that Brown was subsequently ignored and shunned by various people in the police department after he filed the complaint, and that some of his coworkers blocked him on Facebook and removed him from other Facebook pages.
He was barred from a mandatory training for Tasers, the lawsuit says, and some officers refused to tell him important information about incidents that happened when he was off-duty.
The stress of the workplace environment aggravated his gastrointestinal reflux disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2008, and he still has sores on his tongue and mouth from the flare-up, the lawsuit says. He also sought out counseling in 2017.
Jeff Mansfield — the city manager for Hastings City — said that while Brown was awarded $65,000 for his claims, “the city did not believe the lawsuit had merit.”
“But when comparing the settlement to the cost and disruptive effect of defending the case,” he told WWMT, “it was in the city’s best interest to resolve the case on the terms in the mediated settlement agreement.”
Michael Bogren, who represented the city in the lawsuit, wrote that the court could fall into a slippery slope if they said Brown is indeed part of a protected class because of his Ancestry.com results, according to MLive.
“If plaintiff is allowed to be included as the member of a protected class because of the self-reported results of a commercial ancestry test,” he wrote, “then the courts will be in the business of ‘certifying bloodlines and races.’”
Pratt actually pushed for the comments to stop, the city argued in court. But Karie Boylan, attorney for Brown, argued that the city indeed “bullied” the man for his genetics and left him feeling like he would “not have adequate back up in the event of an emergency.”
“The department,” she told MLive, “ruined his life.”
Now as part of the settlement, he will be forced to resign at the end of October, when his time on paid suspension runs out, CNN reported.