Pending settlement reached in 'Domelights' civil rights lawsuit

Jon Campisi Jun. 27, 2011, 2:26pm

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in 2009 on behalf of a black police officers’ group that alleged racism by their white counterparts has reached a pending settlement.

The lawsuit was filed July 15, 2009, at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorney Brian Mildenberg, of the firm Mildenberg and Stalbaum, P.C., on behalf of the Guardian Civic League, the Philadelphia affiliate of the National Black Police Association.

The case originated with racist postings and ranting’s on the now-defunct website, which was billed as a forum for officers to discuss law enforcement related news and issues.

The Guardian Civic League filed the suit because they maintained the police department, even though it had not officially sanctioned the website, enabled the officers, since it apparently did nothing to stop them from posting racist remarks.

The settlement, which was reached June 22 between the plaintiffs and the police department, has not yet officially been approved by U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, thus preventing the parties from discussing the terms in depth.

Philadelphia Police would not comment extensively, only to say it will abide by the settlement terms, whatever they end up being.

“We will comply with the provisions of the settlement agreement,” said Officer Jillian Russell, a Philadelphia Police Department spokeswoman.

Mildenberg, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said that he was unsure when exactly the judge would act on the settlement agreement.

“I can’t say because it’s within the court’s discretion,” he said. “I can’t make further comments until I get the court approval.”

Court records, however, say plenty.

According to the settlement terms, the Philadelphia Police Department would agree to a number of stipulations, including agreeing to maintain its efforts to build a “diverse police force,” and agreeing to not allow officers to use department computers to post offense remarks about “any protected class” of person.

The lawsuit had painted the picture of a police department whose higher-ups allowed racist behavior on the part of its officers, even if the Internet postings were made during non-working hours.

“The racially offensive nature of is pervasive and severe, and on an almost daily basis insults African American Police Officers,” the lawsuit had stated, offering examples of racist postings. “The racially offensive nature of has created a discriminatory and hostile working environment on the basis of race, in violation of the federal civil rights of [the plaintiffs].”

The complaint alleged that while the defendants used screen names behind the postings, it was “widely known” within the Philadelphia Police Department that the comments were made by a group of white officers among its ranks.

The lawsuit, in addition to demanding that the department beef up its officer sensitivity training, sought injunctive relief ordering that department leaders ban the use of the website by Philly cops, even while off-duty.

The Domelights website has since been shuttered, but it still appears to be active on Twitter. The profile on the Twitter account, @Domelights, says, “ ain’t dead yet!”

In addition to the injunctive relief, the complaint sought economic relief including provisions that demand the city agree to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and that the city agrees to set aside a budget of $20,000 for police department training in anti-discrimination laws and equal opportunity in employment.

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