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Stow police officer sues chief and city for racial discrimination and retaliation

Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 6:49 PM EDT
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STOW, Ohio (WOIO) - A Stow officer is suing the city and police chief for racial discrimination and retaliation, and the city is fighting the lawsuit.

"Officer Smith has repeatedly been denied promotion opportunities that were instead granted to Caucasian officers because of his race," the complaint claims, adding, "Officer Smith has been denied promotion opportunities as retaliation for his repeated complaints lodged against the Department and Chief Film for race-based discrimination."

Smith is the city’s only black police officer.

19 News stopped at the Stow Police Department on Tuesday; our crew was approached by Chief Film, who said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing legal matter.

But in court documents filed in Summit County, Film and the city responded to the original complaint:

In the complaint, filed on Smith’s behalf by Beachwood-based attorney Kevin Gross, Smith suggested many of the problems stem from a skin condition and how it pertains to the department’s facial hair policy.

“Despite multiple notices from Officer Smith’s dermatologist stating he cannot shave daily, Chief Film and other members of the Department continued to repeatedly and discriminatory harass Officer Smith about not shaving on a daily basis,” the complaint stated.

Again, in their response, the city and Chief Film refuted Smith’s claims.:

“When a lieutenant and a sergeant addressed this with Officer Smith again in 2015, he said he did not want to have a well trimmed, neat beard and intended to shave at his own convenience, and then asserted he was being harassed by his superiors because they dared to question him about his admitted non compliance with his own doctor’s opinion. Nonetheless, the City decided to excuse Officer Smith from complying with his doctor’s opinion and the Policy’s facial hair rule by allowing him to shave only on the first day of the week or on Wednesday if an event over the weekend necessitated a clean shaven face, and Officer Smith agreed to this accommodation. Thereafter, on or about August 14, 2015, Officer Smith submitted a second doctor’s note stating he ‘must avoid shaving due to his condition, but is allowed to shave intermittently due to discomfort, otherwise he will trim his beard.’ Since that time, the City has continued to accommodate Officer Smith based on this doctor’s note and the agreement with Smith, and no further issues have arisen regarding this matter until Defendants were served with this lawsuit nearly five years later.”

The lawsuit seeks:

  • That the Court award Plaintiff back pay with pre-judgment interest to remedy Defendants’ discriminatory and unlawful employment practices;
  • That the Court award Plaintiff compensatory damages, in an amount in excess of $25,000.00 to be determined at trial, for the losses Plaintiff sustained as a result of Defendants’ discriminatory and unlawful employment practices;
  • That the Court award Plaintiff punitive damages, in an amount in excess of $25,000.00 to be determined at trial, for Defendants’ intentional, malicious, reckless, and wanton disregard of Plaintiff’s rights, feelings, and the terms, conditions, and privileges of Plaintiff’s employment;
  • That the Court award Plaintiff attorney’s fees, costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest as to all counts in an amount to be determined at trial; and
  • That the Court award Plaintiff such other and further relief as may be just, equitable, and in furtherance of the public interest.

Smith has been the school resource officer at Stow-Munroe Falls High School since 2004.

In October of last year, Smith was injured when he was hit by a teenage driver while directing traffic. He returned to work in March.

Because of COVID-19 shutting schools down, he was reassigned to routine patrol, a job he’s currently doing.

19 News reached out to Smith’s attorney, Kevin Gross, to request an interview. Gross said he would discuss the possibility with Smith.

A trial date has been set for November 8, 2021.

Editor’s note: In the on-air version of the story, we inaccurately stated the trial was scheduled for November of this year.

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