Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments in Boston Police Diversity Case

Employment, Police Accountability, Racial Justice

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a case of far-reaching importance concerning diversity in the Boston Police Department. Jones v. City of Boston challenges a discriminatory and unreliable hair test used by the Boston Police Department to determine drug use. The hair test is particularly unreliable for Black officers due to their unique hair characteristics. The First Circuit has already ruled that the hair test disproportionately affects Black officers. Nonetheless, a federal judge upheld the discriminatory test, a ruling the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and pro bono co-counsel from WilmerHale are now appealing to the First Circuit.

In a companion case, the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission found that the hair test is unreliable and required the Boston Police Department to reinstate a number of officers, a decision that was upheld by the Superior Court. The City of Boston is appealing that decision.

“Diversity in police ranks is a key component of community representation and accountability,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Our communities are safer and stronger when minority officers have an equal opportunity to serve and when police departments reflect the neighborhoods they serve.”

He noted that the U.S. Department of Justice, in its investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown, found widespread concern about the lack of diversity in Ferguson, Missouri’s police department and specifically called on the city to use only “reliable and valid selection devices” to hire and promote police officers. “Boston should be ahead of Ferguson, not behind,” said Espinoza-Madrigal. “Our increasingly diverse communities remain significantly underrepresented.  Unfair employment practices weaken the integrity of our police departments and stand in the way of diversity. If police departments won’t get rid of these illegal barriers voluntarily, we will continue to turn to the federal courts to compel compliance with the law.”

The oral argument will be held on Thursday, September 8 at 9:30 AM in the Court of Appeals Panel Courtroom, 7th Floor, John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse, 1 Courthouse Way, Boston, MA 02210.

The oral argument in this case was featured in the Boston Globe and the Bay State Banner