COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Attorneys representing plaintiffs and defendants in a federal racial discrimination lawsuit filed by Columbus police are at odds.
The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 1 by a dozen Black and white Columbus police officers, accuses Melissa McFadden, a Black commander within the division, of treating Black officers differently than white officers under her command since as early as 2017, according to a copy of the complaint.
McFadden, who was previously awarded $2 by a jury in her own racial discrimination lawsuit against the city, is accused of, among other things, offering an “official” and an “unofficial” performance evaluation for a Black sergeant, telling Black officers that white officers thought less of them, and saying some Black officers were a “white type” of Black person.
Attorney Zach Gottesman, who is representing the officers who filed the lawsuit, said McFadden created a hostile and toxic work environment for his clients. The lawsuit claims McFadden made comments like, “We (Black) officers need to stick together” and “The official evaluation would include higher ratings because of his race.”
“The current situation is simply intolerable,” Gottesman said, “and somebody has got to step forward and address it.”
Other city officials, including Mayor Andrew Ginther, City Attorney Zach Klein and Public Safety Director Robert Clark are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Plaintiffs argue city officials knew about McFadden’s behavior but failed to stop it.
“That’s the crux of the case, really, is that the city administration does know about it, and instead of taking corrective action, they’ve promoted it,” Gottesman said. “And by promoting her, they’ve essentially encouraged this kind of behavior.”
McFadden’s defense attorney Sam Schlein, however, denied the allegations against his client. “She is not someone who acts in a discriminatory fashion,” he said. “It seems as a continued coordinated event effort to get her terminated.”
In 2018 similar allegations prompted an internal investigation into McFadden, which resulted in accusations that she created a hostile work environment and harbored an “us against them” attitude when it came to Black and white officers.
McFadden denied the allegations, but former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs recommended the then-CPD lieutenant be suspended, demoted or terminated. The safety director at the time, Ned Pettus, ruled in McFadden’s favor, returning her to the job.
“(Pettus) found that the charges weren’t sustained, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to now see these six years later be brought up against her,” Schlein said.
City Attorney Zach Klein’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation.