Civil Rights

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Police Misconduct

Our civil rights laws provide protections to people against abuse by government. Originally used in the 1870s by the President of the United States to fight white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan or KKK, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. section 1983, allows today a civil cause of action against “[e]very person, who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory,” deprives another person of constitutional rights. Consequently, where a government practice or custom or a government official violates a person’s civil rights, the harmed person may bring claims in court for relief. People are familiar with allegations of government misconduct when it comes to occurrences of police brutality and excessive force, but there are other forms of government misconduct. Examples below include police officer sex-related misconduct, violations of a law enforcement officer’s rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and adverse employment decisions against public employees who blow the whistle in Texas on government law breaking.

Sexual assaults, rapes and sexual misconduct or harassment by law enforcement officers acting under color of law can give rise to a civil cause of action under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. Federal district court cases in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, point out that police officer sexual misconduct can subject municipalities to civil liability for damages under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 where, for example, there is a failure to supervise the officer and deliberate indifference to the rights of the person subjected to sexual assault by a law enforcement officer. See, Centamore v. City of Houston, 9 F.Sup.29 717 (S.D.Tex.1997); Arnold v. City of San Antonio, 2009 U.S.Dist.Lexis 32744 (W.D.Tex.2009).

Founded in 1893, the International Association of Chiefs of Police is the world’s oldest and largest association of law enforcement executives. The problem of sexual misconduct among law enforcement is recognized by law enforcement and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, sexual offenses and sexual misconduct by police officers represent a grave abuse of the authority that the badge represents and it is imperative that law enforcement executives prepare proactively to address and prevent police officer sexual misconduct since police officer sexual misconduct harms people and damages the bond of trust between law enforcement departments and the communities they protect and serve. The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends aggressive leadership action when officers tarnish the badge by committing sexual offenses. Quoted in the organization’s executive guide, an author familiar with the subject of police officer sexual misconduct asserts that undocumented, uninvestigated and un-adjudicated law enforcement sexual misconduct often escalates. Indeed, sexual misconduct within a law enforcement agency may be indicative of a need for systemic and cultural changes.

A study discussed in The Police Chief: The Professional Voice of Law Enforcement provides empirical data on an unprecedented number of cases involving police sexual misconduct and violence. The most serious offense charged in over 20% of the cases was forcible rape, followed by forcible fondling at 19.5 %, statutory rape at 10.8 % and, among other categories, forcible sodomy at 9.9%.

A study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Texas prisons and jails have some of the highest rates of inmate sexual abuse in the United States. The Observer reported that the Harris County jail had the third highest rate of sexual abuse among the more than 350 jails surveyed nationwide. Sexual abuse within this aspect of law enforcement can involve not only inmate-on-inmate sexual misconduct but also staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct.

Rapes, sexual misconduct and other forms of unlawful sexual harassment among law enforcement is a recognized problem and people subjected to this type of violation have rights they can assert for relief.

Racial Harassment

Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race. Ethnic slurs, racist words or epithets, racial jokes, offensive or derogatory language, or other verbal and physical conduct based on a person’s race constitute unlawful workplace harassment where, for example, the conduct subjects employees to an intimidating, offensive or hostile work environment, or interferes with an employee’s work performance.

Workplace racial harassment can occur at any place of employment in any area of the employer’s place of business. That is, it is not limited to the occurrence of racial harassment is not limited to the warehouse, the oilfield, the construction site, the assembly line, the factory floor, the manufacturing plant, the refinery facility, the restaurant kitchen or housekeeping but also can occur in management offices, the boardroom, and elsewhere.

Racial harassment creates a hostile work environment and there are many different types of conduct, communication and words that are offensive. For example, “[t]he use of the word ‘nigger’ automatically separates the person addressed from every non-black person; this is discrimination per se.” Bailey v. Binyon, 583 F.Supp. 923, 927 (N.D. Ill. 1984); Briggs v. Hannah’s Restaurant, Inc., 1997 U.S. Dist. Lexis 7103 (N.D. Ill. 1997); See also, EEOC v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 13654 (M.D. Pa., 2010) (“the use of racial epithets – especially the word ‘nigger’, which has a long and sordid history in this country – can quickly change the atmosphere, environment and culture of a workplace from positive to poisonous”); Demby v. Preston Trucking Co., 961 F. Supp. 873, 880 (D.Md. 1997) (“repeated use of the ancient epithet ‘nigger’ is far from trivial as a matter of law”); Sims v. Montgomery County Comm’n, 756 F.Supp. 1052, 1097 (M.D. Ala., 1990) (the term ‘nigger’ is so severely dehumanizing that its use in the workplace on just a few occasions can render the workplace psychologically intolerable); Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 184 (4th Cir. 2001) (“Far more than ‘a mere offensive utterance’, the word ‘nigger’ is pure anathema to African-Americans”); Brown v. Mississippi Electric Power Association, 989 F.2d 858, 861 (5th Cir. 1993) (“unlike certain age-related comments which we have found too vague to constitute evidence of discrimination, the term ‘nigger’ is a universally recognized opprobrium, stigmatizing African-Americans because of their race”); Hull v. Cuyahoga Valley Joint Vocational Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 926 F.2d 505, 514 (6th Cir. 1991) (“His use of the word ‘niggers’ cannot be characterized as harmless or casual”); Rodgers v. Western-Southern Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 668, 675 (7th Cir. 1993) (“Perhaps no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment than the use of an unambiguously racial epithet such as ‘nigger’ by a supervisor in the presence of his subordinates.”); Delph v. Dr. Pepper Bottling Co., 130 F.3d 349, 356 (8th Cir. 1997) (the word nigger is among some of the most offensive racial epithets); Swinton v. Potomac Corp., 270 F.3d 794, 817 (9th Cir. 2001) (the word “nigger” is perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English, a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry); Tademy v. Union Pac. Corp., 520 F.3d 1149, 1162 (10th Cir. 2008) (“Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a message more calculated to make an African-American feel unwelcome in the workplace than ‘nigger’ engraved in his or her individual workplace”).

Additional unlawful ethnic slurs can include such words as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, mayate, beaner, spic, wetback, dirty Jew, kike, camel jockey, haji, sand nigger, gringo, limey, chink, slant eye, gook and, among others, zipperhead. Workplaces become intolerable when this type of abusive, derogatory language is used. Insult is added to injury where slurs are coupled with symbols and images of hate such as a hangman’s noose.

Retaliation against workers reporting workplace discrimination and racial harassment is prohibited. When workers who report racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace are retaliated against, Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can provide a basis for claims against the employer.

Sexual Harassment

Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbid employment-related sexual harassment. These laws make it unlawful to harass a job applicant or employee based on the individual’s sex. The illegal harassment can include sexual misconduct, unwelcome sexual advances, sexual derogatory language, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment that is sexual in nature. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment and harassers can be co-workers, supervisors, managers, owners, clients and customers. Sexual harassment can occur with unwelcome physical contact such as unwanted kissing, groping, fondling, or touching, as well as sexual assault and rape. Sexual harassment can also occur without physical contact where, for example, there is unwanted, offensive communication, language, pictures or images. Workplace misconduct of a sexual nature is not limited to any particular industry or types of businesses. Hostile work environments created by sexual harassment can arise in the restaurant and bar industry and the construction industry, as well as in the oilfield, in manufacturing facilities and refinery plants, among many other places of employment. When workers report sexual harassment to employers and are retaliated against in response to their lawful complaints, retaliation is prohibited and Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can provide a basis for claims against the employer.