Reverse Discrimination in Light of Ricci v. DeStefano

By: Will Volet

Andrew Hardwick, the mayor of the Village of Freeport, Long Island, is facing serious allegations of reverse discrimination by two local police officers. Lt. Christopher Barrella, a 21-year veteran, filed a Title VII claim last month against Hardwick in U.S. Distinct Court in Central Islip, alleging that despite his superior qualifications, he was not promoted to Chief because of his race.[1] The police lieutenant turned plaintiff had harsh words about Hardwick’s conduct, stating that “[t]he mayor has systematically demoted and or terminated and or forced to retire male whites and female whites and replaced them with less qualified or totally unqualified minority employees.”[2] These allegations arose after mayor Hardwick promoted a Hispanic officer to Village Chief, rather than Barbella, who scored No. 1 on the chief exam, two spots ahead of Miguel Bermudez, the newly appointed Chief, who was No. 3 on the list.[3]

This is familiar territory for Mayor Hardwick. In August 2010, Debbie Zagaja, another Freeport police officer, brought a Title VII claim alleging that she was discriminated against because of her race and gender.[4] Zagaja, a 24-year veteran, alleged that she was demoted and passed over for a less experienced Hispanic male.[5] Like Barbella, Zagaja alleged that Hardwick systematically favored black and Hispanic employees.[6]

The controversy that surrounds these reverse discrimination cases and others like them may have been somewhat exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Ricci v. DeStefano.[7] In Ricci, white fire fighters sued city officials in New Haven, CT, for failing to certify the results of an examination used to determine promotions based on the disparate impact the test results had on minority fire fighters.[8]  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit’s order of summary judgment.[9] Following the reversal, the city settled for $2,000,000.[10]

As Barbella and Zagaja proceed to district court, the reach of Ricci could be tested, and municipal employees and labor lawyers may want to take notice.

[1] CBS News, White Police Lieutenant Files Reverse Discrimination Lawsuit Against Mayor Of Freeport, CBS2 New York, (Jan. 27, 2012 11:02 PM),

[2] Id.  (quoting Barrella during interview with CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan on Jan. 27, 2012).

[3] Frank Eltman, NY Village, Mayor Accused of Discriminating Against White Police Officers, The Republic,–Freeport-Police-Discrimination/ (last updated Jan. 26, 2012, 5:42 PM).

[4] Id.

[5] See CBS News, supra note 1.

[6] Eltman, supra note 4.

[7] 557 U.S. 557 (2009)

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Newscore, New Haven Firefighters Win $2 Million In Discrimination Case,, (last updated Jul. 28 2011, 4:35 PM).

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