FOX 5 EXCLUSIVE: DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier on trial for discr - KMSP-TV

FOX 5 EXCLUSIVE: DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier on trial for discrimination

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D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier

Monday was the first day of trial for D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who is accused of discriminating against a senior level, female, African American police officer.

There is a gag order on this case, and no cameras are allowed in the federal courthouse.

The plaintiff, Evelyn Primas, filed the lawsuit against both the District of Columbia and Lanier, personally, for discriminating against her on the basis of race and sex. Primas was a 29-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, who says she was forced by Lanier to retire so that she could be replaced by a white man.

This suit stemmed from a meeting in Sept. 2007 with then, newly-appointed police chief and Primas. Lanier told Primas that she had two choices: keep her job as director of the Court Liaison Division -- but be downgraded two ranks from commander to captain -- or retire.

Primas chose to retire in order to keep her pension at the higher rank level. However, she says this was against her will.

Just a few days after this 2007 meeting, Lanier appointed Captain Marcus Westover, a slightly younger white man, to fill the position Primas was leaving vacant. Lanier then offered Westover the rank of inspector, which is one higher than the rank she offered Primas for the same job.

Lanier said she changed the rank because she realized “at the last minute” that the Court Liaison Division director needed to have the authority that comes with the title.

In 2012, Judge Richard J. Leon of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted an order for motion for summary judgment and ruled against Primas.

However, she appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In June 2013, the appeals court reversed the lower court decision, and ordered Judge Leon to conduct a jury trial on the merits of discrimination charges.

The appeals court wrote in its decision that "this case hinges” on these two questions for the jury:

“Is Lanier telling the truth when she says that she gave Westover the Inspector rank only because she belatedly realized that the Court Liaison Director would need the authority that goes with the rank? Or did Lanier instead plan to force Primas out of the Director position by offering it to her at a lower rank, freeing Lanier to give the position to a white man at a higher rank?”

In court on Monday, the pre-trial issues focused on the challenges of seating an impartial jury.

Wayne Tonkins is an employment attorney, who was in the courtroom to observe. He explained to me that, “You want a jury who can look at a person and go beyond the rank and give credibility to what is being said.”

Tonkins, who is also a former police officer, said that a juror will have to be able to understand that “because this is the police chief -- or because this is a commander or a lieutenant -- doesn't mean that particular testimony has any more credibility. It’s what they perceive to be the truth.”

Lanier is expected to testify on Tuesday morning after opening arguments from Primas’s lawyer, Ted Williams, and the Assistant Attorney General Kerslyn Featherstone.

When asked for comment, Lanier’s spokeswoman, Gwendolyn Crump, referred me to the Office of the Attorney General, which is bound by the gag order.

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