Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) March 26, 2014 — A former police chief has settled a lawsuit against the city of Jasper, Texas and other defendants, having claimed that he was discriminated against because of his race.
Rodney Pearson, the first African-American police chief of Jasper, filed the lawsuit. He claimed that Jasper Mayor Mike Lout, also the owner of a local radio station, portrayed Pearson as a “thief” in an attempt to stoke racial tension against him. Pearson’s employment was terminated in June 2012 after a recall election removed three black city council members and elected a white majority.
“Racial discrimination in employment is prohibited by both federal and Texas law,” says Gregory D. Jordan, an Austin employment attorney not involved with the case. “It makes no difference whether the employer is a government entity or a private employer — either way, the employee is protected. But it is extremely disturbing and merits swift action when someone uses the power of the State to engage in discriminatory conduct. Hopefully, this settlement will help put an end to such practices.”
Pearson alleged that Lout used the former chief’s personnel file to portray him as a “criminal,” while not mentioning the commendations and awards he received during his 20 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Pearson was hired in February 2011 as interim police chief and took over full time in April of that year. The city of Jasper used a controversial point-scoring system to rank applicants for the position. Pearson’s critics claimed that more qualified white applicants were passed over when the then-majority-black city council hired him.
Pearson was fired after a group called the League of Concerned Citizens gathered signatures on petitions to recall three of the city council’s four black members who voted to hire him. After an election resulted in a four-to-one white majority on the city council, the council voted four to one to fire Pearson.
White residents who did not support Pearson said that their concerns were not about race, but about Pearson’s failure to disclose a 1990 misdemeanor arrest for writing a bad check and his lack of municipal law enforcement experience on his employment application.
The controversy reignited racial tensions in the town where James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck by three white men in 1998. Pearson, then Jasper County’s first black state highway patrol officer, was the first officer to respond to the scene of that crime.
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