Fired BRPD cadet claims race, sex discrimination

A former Baton Rouge police cadet who was asked to resign from the academy last year has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city-parish, claiming she was harassed and mistreated because of her sex and race.

The dismissal of Kelley Morgan became something of a Rorschach test in February amid the contentious firing of Police Chief Dewayne White.

The ousted chief claimed Morgan’s plight epitomized the department’s lack of diversity and its inability to resolve a decades-old federal consent decree forbidding discriminatory hiring practices.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, meanwhile, pointed to White’s handling of Morgan as one of the many reasons he was terminated.

“This is the only thing she can do to get some measure of justice out of this,” Morgan’s attorney, Jill Craft, said of the lawsuit. “It was a long time coming.”

Assistant Parish Attorney Dawn Guillot said city-parish officials would have no comment on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit, filed last week in 19th Judicial District Court, claims Morgan was treated differently than her peers and subjected to “offensive, unwelcome, derogatory comments” about her sex and race. The lawsuit accuses a police sergeant of calling her a “bull’s-eye” and saying, “I don’t like you and I don’t want you here.”

The lawsuit describes an incident in late 2012 in which Morgan was disciplined and made to write 16 pages on the importance of her radio and flashlight after forgetting both items at home one day.

“Other trainees who left equipment at home were given replacements,” the lawsuit claims. “However, petitioner was forced to carry around a large ‘boom box’ radio and a desk lamp.”

The lawsuit claims Morgan was later called into a meeting — in which she was informed her “nappy” hair ran afoul of department standards — and told to submit a letter of resignation because she had not taken responsibility for forgetting the radio and flashlight.

Department records show Morgan also was accused of directing an expletive toward a fellow cadet and had been reprimanded twice about “a weave in her hair being outside of BRPD regulations.”

Sgt. J.D. Leach wrote in one correspondence that class leaders said Morgan “lacked integrity, honor and teamwork” and “only cared about herself and did only the work necessary to get by.”

Morgan complained to White, who began an investigation and re-instated her to a position in the records division. City-parish officials have said they confronted White about unlawfully paying Morgan as an officer and ordering her paid for work she had not earned.

Holden, in his termination letter to White, said the chief had violated “several laws, policies and procedures” by rehiring Morgan as a file clerk and paying her at an officer’s scale.

The mayor also took issue with a $1,000 loan White made to Morgan and his disobeying an order to stop communicating with her.

At the time of White’s firing, Holden promised a “proper investigation” into Morgan’s case, even as he disputed the chief’s assertion that the department has systemic race issues. The mayor acknowledged there had been discrimination within the department at one point but said “that’s been long before Kip Holden became mayor.”

Ten months later, it’s not clear whether such investigation was ever conducted. Craft said Morgan was never contacted regarding an inquiry, and Holden did not respond Monday to a request for comment.