Four City of Falls Church police employees filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria last week alleging employment discrimination and seeking over $10 million in compensation and damages. Officers Markus Bristol, Frank D. Hicks, Derrica N. Wilson and civilian employee Carolyn Pendleton, all identified in the suit as African-Americans, joined in the suit naming the City of Falls Church as defendant.
A 20-page filing by attorneys Christopher Brown and Edwin Brown details allegations of “unlawful discriminatory practices, including but not limited to discriminating against plaintiffs on the basis of their race in compensation, assignments, and training opportunities, creating and condoning a hostile work environment, and retaliating against them for engaging in protected activity,” dating to January 2002.
According to the claim, the defendants’ problems escalated when three members of the police department formed a coalition to address “working conditions, disparate pay, benefits, and the quota system, among other general officer concerns” in December 2003. One defendant, Markus Bristol, was elected vice president of the coalition. He is now its president.
While the suit has been filed, all four members of the department continue to work. Meanwhile, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields said he wished to limit his comments to saying, “There are two sides to every story,” and that he was confident an amicable resolution would be found and that the City would move forward.
However, after news of the suit first broke last weekend, members of the Falls Church City Council expressed great concern at their meeting Monday night. An article in the Washington Post, Councilman David Snyder said, “It’s the most negative article about Falls Church I’ve seen in all my years as a public official here.”
“The community needs a complete report on what did or did not occur and how things got to this point,” Snyder said. “It is a failure of management that we got to this point. The (Post) article is filled with all kinds of allegations.”
“I affirm the right of the persons in question to exercise their constitutional rights and we respect all their rights,” Shields said. “The City is committed to equal rights in the workforce and diversity. We’ve been aware of the issues in the police department for a period of time.”
Monday, the News-Press received a copy of a letter of resignation from Donna Spiewak, volunteer accreditation manager at the police department, citing the “steadily more hostile environment” in the department since her involvement began in 2003.
She wrote, “The worst part of the entire situation has been that the good, hardworking and professional men and women of the Falls Church Police Department have had to be dragged through the mud in national and international newspapers because their co-workers chose to disrespect fellow associates and bring in-house issues into the national arena.”
Edwin B. Henderson II, president of Falls Church’s Tinner Hill Foundation, wrote in a letter to the News-Press, “The City again faces a racial divide…I am convinced there are enough good men and women in Falls Church to see that our community rises above the narrow boundaries of racial discrimination.”