A Michigan police officer will be awarded a $65,000 settlement after filing a lawsuit alleging that his colleagues began to taunt him after they learned the results of his Ancestry.com test.
Sargeant Cleon Brown, an officer with the police department in Hastings, Michigan for nearly 20 years, first sued the city for $500,000 last year, according to Michigan-based CBS affiliate WWMT. Brown claimed that after genetic test results revealed in 2016 that he was 18 to 33 percent sub-Saharan African, his colleagues began to ridicule him, with some whispering “Black Lives Matter” and pumping their fists when near him, according to Michigan Live. His police police chief also allegedly referred to him as “Kunta”—the name of a main character in Alex Haley’s slavery-era epic, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”
Brown claimed that around Christmas 2016, one of his colleagues even left a black Santa head with “18%” written on it in his stocking, Michigan Live reports. Brown claimed that on another occasion, the mayor, after learning about Brown’s test results, proceeded to tell him a joke containing the N-word, according to WWJ-TV, a CBS station based in Detroit. Brown also told the outlet that, after filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination suit alleging a hostile environment, his co-workers began shunning him.
CNN reports that Brown's attorney Karie Boylan said the officer will receive a $65,000 settlement. And while Brown will continue receiving salary and benefits through the end of October, as part of the settlement, he cannot seek future employment with the city. Brown is reportedly planning to sell his home and look for work in a new town.
Before the settlement, the city denied Brown’s claims in a statement, CNN reports, contending that Brown himself first joked about the test results.
“Other officers have stated that after Brown first told them about the test results they never approached him about it again. Instead, it was Brown who specifically went to other officers, raised the topic, joked about it, and engaged in typical racial stereotypes,” the statement read. “Clearly, Sgt. Brown welcomed his interaction with other officers on this topic.”
In a statement to WWMT, Hastings city manager Jeff Mansfield said that the city did not believe Brown’s suit “had merit.”
He continued, “But when comparing the settlement to the cost and disruptive effect of defending the case, it was in the city’s best interest to resolve the case on the terms in the mediated settlement agreement.”
However, the city claimed that Brown not only started the trouble by joking about results showing that he was “18-percent African American” according to Michigan Live, but “African American” isn’t even a possible test result, the city argued, because Ancestry.com—the administrators of Brown’s test—does not provide information on race, and only reveals shared characteristics in genes.
Michael Bogren, an attorney for the city of Hastings, seemed to think Brown’s case could become a slippery slope. He explained, according to Michigan Live, “If plaintiff is allowed to be included as the member of a protected class because of the self-reported results of a commercial ancestry test, then the courts will be in the business of ‘certifying bloodlines and races.’”
[Photo: United States District Court, Western District Of Michigan]