Diversity Officers can learn a lot from a recent lawsuit.
A Reading, PA police union has filed suit against the city and it’s Police Civil Service Board. The lawsuit claims that the Police Civil Service Board ignored state civil service laws in hiring a Latino who was not on the required list of eligible officer candidates.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9′s suit is over the hiring of Officer Daniel Cedano-Erazo and it challenges the city’s authority to ignore state law to comply with a federal mandate.
Cedano-Erazo was hired in June as part of the city’s response to the settlement of a federal lawsuit that the Pennsylvania Statewide Latino Coalition filed in 2003.
The FOP wants Senior Judge Albert A. Stallone to revoke the hire and force the city to follow long-established rules to find a replacement. It claims those rules require the city to hire from among the top three candidates on the civil service list, which is ranked by test scores.
Cedano-Erazo, the suit claims, ranked 29th on the list that expired in 2006 and has not been on any list of eligible candidates since.
Cedano-Erazo has completed police academy training and was sworn in Dec. 23, the day after the FOP suit was filed. He is in field training.
The suit also names Mayor Tom McMahon and council President Vaughn D. Spencer as defendants.
Police Chief William M. Heim, who was looking at alternatives to get more Latinos on the force, has been under pressure from the city’s Police Diversity Board, which was established as part of the settlement of the coalition’s lawsuit. The diversity board has recommended creating a separate hiring list for police candidates who are bilingual.
Some city officials oppose the recommendation so Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, the federal judge the diversity board reports to, has appointed Senior District Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. to serve as a mediator.
What can the diversity officer learn from this incident? First of all, responding to the federal civil rights suit requires more than compliance. You need to take care of all the stakeholders. This includes working with the police union in preparation for the changes.
The police union does not have to like the federal suit outcome, but they can start to consider how existing policies need to be reconsidered in the face of the federal mandate. Too often, the organization’s leadership put off talking to adversaries until a lawsuit has been settled. This protects against making hasty decisions at the cost of building relationships needed to address the outcome collaboratively. Both union representatives and the leaders of the organization with union members stereotype each other as uncooperative and self serving. This is where the diversity professional comes in.
Ongoing dialog between the parties with the goal of finding win-win solutions is the key. The diversity officer needs the competence and authority to mediate the dialog and keep it moving towards a solution in order to achieve the diversity recruitment goals.
Each party tends to see an all-or-nothing power battle when it comes to union negotiating on behalf of members. Diversity officers educate, motivate, tolerate, and communicate in their role. They educate the parties about changing demographics and the impact on doing business as usual. They show how preparing for the demographic changes in the present requires thinking differently. Toleration for resistance and disharmony while working towards workable solutions is a must. And listening until everyone feels heard is critical.
This report is based in part on an article by Don Spatz which appeared in the Reading Eagle News (12/31/2008 Last Update: 1/5/2009 7:14:00 PM).