COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A jury ruled in a Columbus police officer’s favor in a racial discrimination lawsuit. Her award in damages, however, was $2.
The verdict form obtained Tuesday by Nexstar’s WCMH showed that the jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio determined the evidence showed the City of Columbus both racially discriminated against and retaliated against Lt. Melissa McFadden. The ruling means the city violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Ohio Laws Against Discrimination.
McFadden had asked in the original complaint for at least $25,000 plus lost wages and legal fees. For each count, the jury awarded McFadden $1 in compensatory damages, adding up to a total of $2.
The verdict form did not provide any explanation for the jury’s ruling.
WCMH covered a 2018 internal affairs investigation that accused McFadden of creating a hostile work environment and harboring an “us against them” attitude when it came to Black and white officers. McFadden denied the allegations, but former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs recommended the CPD lieutenant be fired. The safety director at the time ruled in McFadden’s favor, returning her to the job.
McFadden filed her federal lawsuit against the city after that investigation concluded, and the complaint painted a different picture of the internal affairs investigation. In the document, McFadden’s attorney said multiple supervising officers targeted the lieutenant — who also acted as a union representative for fellow officers — for helping another Black officer file a complaint against a sergeant in 2016.
“Cmdr. [Jennifer] Knight told Sgt. [Kyle] Fishburn in the presence of the African-American female officer
and other officers that her complaint was ‘stupid’ and ‘not going anywhere,'” the complaint read. “During the same conversation, Cmdr. Knight stated that she was going to ‘take [Lt. McFadden] out’ for assisting the African-American female officer with the charge.”
After reporting Knight’s retaliation, the lawsuit complaint indicated that another commander began targeting McFadden, gathering comments from officers who left the lieutenant’s patrol zone to file a complaint of their own. That resulted in McFadden being removed from her leadership role and assigned to work in the property room under a civilian clerk.
“I was tasked with taking the covers off old, expired bulletproof vests,” McFadden previously said to WCMH. “I would take off the covers, tape the panels together, and stack them on pallets. And I had to stack them every day for eight hours a day.”
The lawsuit complaint quoted an email from Deputy Chief Ken Kuebler to McFadden. The lieutenant’s attorney said the message showed that McFadden’s reassignment was in response to her filing a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Kuebler told her she would stay in the property room until she was “no longer either the subject or complainant in an EEO investigation.”
When WCMH last spoke with McFadden as she was filing the lawsuit, she fully intended to return back to work at CPD. When WCMH reached out to the former police chief for comment on McFadden staying with the force, CPD gave this statement:
“The Chief made her decision and stands by it. Ultimately, the Public Safety Director’s decision trumps the Chief’s.”The Columbus Division of Police.
The original complaint in McFadden’s lawsuit can be viewed above.