After a protracted legal battle of nearly 15 years, the Suffolk County Superior Court awarded a sum of $40 million in damages to over 600 Black and Hispanic police officers. The court found that these officers were unjustly passed over for promotion due to the bias inherent in the promotional examination.
In a ruling issued on Thursday, the court declared that the state’s human resources division “had an unlawful disparate impact upon Black and Latinx candidates in the police sergeant promotional examinations,” and had thus “interfered with class members’ rights to consideration for promotion.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Abel Cano Jr., aged 55, shared with The Daily Beast his own experience of being repeatedly denied promotion, despite holding a master’s degree in criminal justice and a substantial body of experience.
He said, “The attainability was obvious within those departments where you would see that we had minorities on the job, but very few that were of rank. For me, that was something really odd.”
Cano, a Hispanic, has served as a police officer for nearly three decades, with previous experience in the Methuen force, and currently engaged with the Lawrence Police Department.
Per the court’s ruling, Black and Latino police officers across the state who appeared for promotional exams in 2005, 2008, 2010, or 2012 were systematically passed over for promotions. The court has now ordered that each affected officer be compensated with approximately $60,000.
Yet, Cano highlighted that the cost of years of discrimination extends far beyond the financial impact, affecting him and hundreds of other Black and Hispanic police officers.
His hopes are directed towards future improvements. “I hope that through this process and through this case, other young men and women of color will have the opportunity that I never had. And that’s the ultimate goal because that’s what we started and that’s what we really wanted. I wish it would have been recognized sooner.”
According to Cano, the promotional exam was overly complicated and contained questions not related to Massachusetts’ policing context. Cano further claimed that the test would utilize misleading questions, further complicating the process.
“It’s very hard to remember that much volume, that much information on things that were not really [relatable] to the job,” Cano said. “It’s a very complicated test where it’s not matching up to the realistic aspects of the job.”
The initial lawsuit was filed by Black and Latino police officers in 2009. However, the final settlement was not reached until March 2023.
The officers’ attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan, conveyed her satisfaction with the outcome of this long-fought case. She also expressed optimism that current and future Black and Latino police officers in Massachusetts would benefit from the outcome, as the state is now committed to revising its promotional testing procedures.
“The exam that Massachusetts has been using for many years, it’s just out of date… We think that communities will be better served by a more diverse police force and a police force and more diverse police supervisors, as well as one to show the qualities that should be valued for the position,” Liss-Riordan said.