Calling himself a Minnesota Racial Discrimination Lawyer, Attorney John Klassen says point blank: The purpose of my law firm is to advocate on behalf of and protect employees who have been victimized by their employers.
Last week, he shot the first shots across the bow of his latest adversary, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan and the City of Minneapolis.
Klassen and co-counsel Andrew Muller filed a lawsuit against Dolan and Minneapolis on behalf of five Black police officers, who say they are being discriminated against by Dolan and the City because of their race.
The lawsuit was filed last Monday. The previous Thursday, members of the Police Community Relations Council PCRC) acting on their own behalf, not officially as the PCRC, were joined by spokespersons from the African American Leadership Conference, and the Coalition of Black Churches, and the Minnesota State Baptist Convention in a press conference denouncing the racial hostility toward Black officers at the police department.
They said they will ask the Federal government to place the Minneapolis Police Department in receivership, to arrest and reverse the systematic purge of Black officers from leadership in the department. The advocates said the leadership duties had been earned by the veteran officers, but the demotion of all top ranking Black cops to boondocks assignments, in effect, squanders the years of taxpayer investment in their training, development and careers, and carries out a policy by the current mayor R.T. Rybak, to marginalize Black community aspirations and leadership.
“It’s like training someone to be a surgeon then assigning them to do school crossing safety patrol,” one observer said.
Chief Dolan, in a statement Dec. 3, said “It is inappropriate for me to comment on this pending lawsuit. However, I want to reiterate my personal commitment to building and retaining a diverse police force that reflects the people of Minneapolis. I am proud of the work that the women and men of the Minneapolis police department do every day, and have confidence that will continue moving forward.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak and Council President Barbara Johnson, responding to the lawsuit on behalf of the city, said, “As City leaders we are committed to recruiting and retaining a culturally diverse workforce that reflects the community it serves. We take very seriously any charges of discrimination.
“We are confident in Chief Dolan’s ability to lead the police department and ensure it reflects the diversity of the City. We share his commitment to building and retaining a diverse police force and will continue to support his efforts to accomplish that.”
The Minneapolis City Attorney’s office will review and respond to the pending lawsuit accordingly.
Klassen’s firm elaborates on the need to fight discrimination in the workplace. In statements at their website, the firm says “The United States is home to people of all races, colors, national origins, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Despite advancements in civil rights and prohibition by federal law, racial discrimination in the workplace still happens. In 2006 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC) reported that it received more than 25,000 claims of race discrimination on the job.”
Klassen said he has been a dedicated advocate against racial discrimination since 1994, committed to defending employees’ rights in the workplace. He said his firm has more than a decade of experience and success in handling and litigating race discrimination and harassment cases.
Dolan earlier in the week demoted and reassigned Sgt. Charlie Adams, and after the lawsuit was announced, denied the demotion had anything to do with Adams’ race. Lt. Lee Edwards, Sgt. Dennis Hamilton, Lt. Don Harris and Lt. Medaria Arrodondo joined Adams in the lawsuit, saying they’ve been passed over for promotions, lost out on overtime pay and have been unfairly disciplined – all because they are African American.
The officers said the department has as history of racism. They each earned promotions to high profile leadership positions during the tenure of former police chief, William McManus. One by one, during Dolan’s 11 month tenure, all the ranking Black officers have been removed, reassigned or demoted. They say the racial climate has deteriorated under Dolan.
“Sgt. Adams has brought claims for disparate discipline, disparate treatment in promotions, and disparate treatment in other privileges and rights in employment such as overtime compensation. These types of claims are common for all five plaintiffs,” says Klassen.
Adams was demoted after he and his white partner made a statement contradicting homicide unit commander Lt. Amelia Huffman, who announced that one of the suspects in the killing of bicyclist Mark Loesch told investigators the victim was looking to buy marijuana just before he was killed.
Adams apologized to Loesch’s family for the statements made by Huffman. He said there was no evidence that the victim had been looking for drugs.
In the lawsuit, Adams says his white partner made the same statements but did not receive a punitive transfer out of the homicide division.
Edwards was demoted from his post as 4th Precinct inspector following allegations that he was driving a city vehicle while intoxicated, and for making offensive comments to subordinates. The suit calls those charges false.
Harris who had previously served as a deputy chief, and Arrodondo, who had served as an acting inspector, both applied for Edwards’ old job.
Dolan gave the job to Mike Sauro, a white officer who has been sucessfully sued multiple times by citizens alleging brutality by him. Taxpayers have forked over nearly $1 million to settle lawsuits against Sauro. Later, another white officer, Lt. Mike Martin, was permanently appointed to run the 4th precinct.
Attorney Klassen says both Arrodondo and Harris were more qualified to run the 4th Precinct than Martin. He says the suit is full of similar accounts.
“This is an extremely detailed, lengthy complaint which sets out a long history of claims,” Klassen said, “including breaches by the city of Minneapolis of the federally mediated agreement back in 2003, the intent of which was to correct some of these problems. Its obligations have never been filled by the Minneapolis Police Department.