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Hall deputys lawsuit claims discrimination
Sheriffs office denies race was a factor in promotions
0612sheriffsuit-shawn jackson
Shawn Jackson

A Hall County Sheriff’s deputy has claimed in a federal lawsuit that he was passed over for promotion because of his race.

In a response issued this week, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office denied the allegations, saying the deputy was not promoted to the rank of sergeant when he applied because he did not qualify at the time under a numeric ranking system.

Deputy Shawn Jackson, who is black, is suing Sheriff Steve Cronic, Chief Deputy Jeff Strickland and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, alleging civil rights violations and asking for promotion to sergeant in the uniform patrol division, back pay and unspecified monetary damages.

The lawsuit comes after two years of investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in January determined that it could not establish a violation of law by the sheriff’s office.

Jackson filed the lawsuit in April and Hall County filed its answer to the suit this week.

In its formal answer, attorneys for the county deny Jackson’s allegations of race discrimination, deprivation of civil rights and retaliation. They also argue the suit should be dismissed because it wasn’t served to the defendants properly and the statute of limitations had expired.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office on Friday issued a lengthy statement defending its promotion practices and said it would “never allow discrimination on any level in the organization.”

In his lawsuit, Jackson said he was employed by the sheriff’s office since 1995 and was promoted to the rank of corporal in 2004. In 2007, he applied for the position of sergeant in the patrol division.

“Plaintiff was the only African-American to apply for the position. Plaintiff was rejected for the position for which he applied because his race,” the suit claims.

Jackson claimed in the lawsuit he was the most qualified candidate for the position and that it was awarded to a white officer with fewer qualifications.

After filing an EEOC complaint, Jackson claimed he was retaliated against by having his shift changed and having a vacation day canceled for a court appearance.

“Plaintiff has been subjected to systematic and pervasive racial discriminatory practices while employed by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office,” the suit claims. “These discriminatory practices were designed to prevent African-Americans and other minority groups from advancing in rank within the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. All promotions in the Uniform Patrol Division beyond corporal (supervisory positions) are not conducted based upon the relevant factors such as accomplishments, seniority, experience or test scores. The promotional process is manipulated to yield the results desired by the powers that be.”

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s Friday statement said the EEOC conducted a “thorough investigation that included review of large numbers of documents and interviews with key people inside the department and also with the county’s human resource office for over two years. This federal investigation had our full support and cooperation.”

The statement from the sheriff’s office noted the EEOC was unable to conclude there was a violation of law.

The statement said the sheriff’s promotion process includes a written exam, review of personnel files and a formal interview with an independent review board. The review board, made up of ranking members of the office, people from outside departments and civilians, assigns a ranking of the candidates, according to the sheriff’s office.

When Jackson applied for sergeant in March 2007, he ranked fifth out of 14 candidates. The first four were promoted. The list expired in September, without any further promotions to sergeant available.

The statement from the sheriff’s office said when Jackson applied for promotion in March 2008, the promotion board included the president of the local NAACP chapter and a black police lieutenant. Jackson was ranked sixth out of 10 candidates by that board, and the sheriff’s office promoted the top three.

Since then, Jackson has not applied for promotion. The sheriff’s office noted that a black officer was second on the 2008 promotion list and was promoted to sergeant.

The office also noted that after filing his EEOC complaint, Jackson voluntary stepped down from the rank of corporal to line deputy in order to be moved from a night shift to a day shift. He remains in the uniform patrol division.

“The Hall County Sheriff’s Office has taken great steps to ensure that the citizens of Hall County and the employees of the Sheriff’s Office are treated fairly, with respect and without discrimination,” the statement read. “That was one of the driving forces behind the decision to seek national accreditation and state certification. The sheriff’s office has in place policies and procedures that provide guidance to the employees of the sheriff’s office in compliance with nationally accepted standards.”

The statement said Jackson “was treated fairly and was in no way discriminated against because of his race.”

Jackson and his attorneys, Darriel McCorvery of LaFayette, La., and Ronald B. Hatcher of Atlanta, couldn’t be reached for comment this week.

The case is pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.