April 5, 2012

Officer Claiming Discrimination Is Among City’s Highest Paid Employees

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Sgt. Douglas Wright, an Ithaca Police officer who is suing the city for racial discrimination, was the second-highest paid employee in the Ithaca police and fire departments in the most recent pay period for which records are available. During that period, his pay was higher than the two officers who, his lawsuit says, were unfairly promoted at Wright’s expense.

Wright took more money home than 43 more senior members of the police and fire departments and was paid $12,000 more than the chief of police during that pay period, according to SeeThroughNY.net, a non-profit organization that gathers government expenditures in New York State. Wright received a total of $113,474.46 during that one-year period, which ended March 31, 2011, SeeThroughNY figures show.

In the two prior years, Wright was also one of the 10 highest paid employees in the police and fire departments — a group that includes about 140 personnel.Wright did not respond to specific questions about his own pay, but said that overtime work often inflates officers’ earnings.

Wright said that overtime work often inflates officers’ earnings, and that “other types of time … if not taken as time off, are paid out.”

“Officer pay is often increased by thousands because they work many hours of overtime throughout the year,” Wright said in an email. “It is not the officer’s fault the overtime exists. Due to the unpredictable nature of police work, there is a rather high frequency of overtime.”

The figures from SeeThroughNY are the officers’ total pay, which includes overtime, the organization says.

His high compensation does not directly contradict the claims he makes in his lawsuit, but it may raise questions about the extent of the discrimination he argues he suffered.Wright, who is the second white Ithaca Police officer to allege discrimination, says that he was unfairly passed over for promotions twice. In both instances, he says, a black officer was promoted instead of him due to the black officer’s race. Wright is seeking $10.5 million from the lawsuit’s defendants, who include the IPD, former Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson and other city officials.

Wright “has been deprived of income in the form of wages, benefits, promotional opportunities and job assignments which were made or denied because of [Wright’s] race and defendants’ discriminatory acts and policies,” the lawsuit states.

“The defendants unfairly and routinely endorse, support and believe the word of African-American and minority employees over that of [Wright] and male Caucasian employees,” the suit says.

The city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on March 22, arguing that Wright’s assertion that he is white and was not promoted “cites no facts to suggest that one thing had anything to do with the other.” The city’s motion says that Wright’s lawsuit is “built entirely upon the bald assumption by Plaintiff Douglas Wright that his promotional failures were due to his race.”

In the lawsuit, Wright cites two incidents in which he was eligible for a promotion but saw a black officer receive the promotion instead.

Wright alleges in the suit that in 2007, he was passed over for Pete Tyler, a black officer who is now deputy chief. In 2009, Wright was eligible for promotion again, but was passed over for Marlon Byrd, the lawsuit states. Byrd, who is also black, is now a lieutenant.

Because white male employees are excluded from “positions of visibility, authority and power,” Wright and other white males in the police department receive “lower regard, lower pay and fewer benefits,” the lawsuit states.

But in the 2011 pay period, Wright received about $1,000 more than Byrd and almost $20,000 more than Tyler, according to the SeeThroughNY data.

Paul Wagner, an attorney who is representing the City of Ithaca, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Other city representatives and police officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Wright is the second white Ithaca Police officer to make racial discrimination allegations. In another lawsuit, filed in May 2010, Chris Miller claims he faced harsher discipline than his non-white colleagues. He also argues the city retaliated against him for filing a human rights complaint.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst