Police racial discrimination claim against Maryland tossed

July 13, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday dismissed claims against the state of Maryland in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Pocomoke City police officer.

Officer Franklin Savage alleged in his lawsuit that the state, the Pocomoke City government and a county prosecutor created a hostile work environment based on race.

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the claim against the prosecutor based on prosecutorial immunity, but refused to dismiss the claim against the state.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the claim against the prosecutor and threw out the claim against Maryland.

Savage alleged that former Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby created a hostile work environment by repeatedly using “the n-word” while reading from letters to be used as evidence in a case he was prosecuting.

He said after he complained, Oglesby retaliated against him by refusing to call him as a witness in criminal cases and notifying Pocomoke City officials of that decision. He was eventually fired.

Savage’s claims were part of broader litigation filed by three African-American police officers who worked for Pocomoke City and alleged widespread race-based employment discrimination and retaliation.

The 4th Circuit ruling only deals with Savage’s case.

Savage’s lawyers alleged that Maryland, as Oglesby’s employer, was vicariously liable for his unlawful acts. The 4th Circuit disagreed.

The court found that Oglesby was not aiming racial epithets at Savage or anyone else, and was not using slurs to express his own views. Instead, the court found, he was reading the n-word from letters written by criminal suspects during a trial-preparation meeting.

“In that distinct context and without more, no inference of a racially hostile environment can be drawn,” Judge Pamela Harris wrote for the panel in the ruling.

Dennis Corkery, an attorney with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs who represents Savage, Sewell and Green, said they are disappointed with the court’s ruling.

“This decision should be a wake-up call for lawmakers about the danger of giving prosecutors absolutely immunity from suit,” Corkery said.

“The decision today also does not negate the harm that Mr. Savage suffered from Mr. Oglesby’s use of racist language, especially taken in the context of the racism that he, Mr. Sewell and Mr. Green faced throughout their career. ”

Savage was the only one to bring claims against Oglesby.

Claims brought by former police Chief Kelvin Sewell and former Lt. Lynell Green, as well as additional claims brought by Savage against different defendants were put on hold pending the appeal. They will now move forward in U.S. District Court.

The other defendants in the case include Pocomoke City and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.