Capitol Police have been found guilty of discriminating against the first black dog trainer in its K-9 unit and allegedly replacing him with a white employee who was much less qualified.
Juan Cobbin, a former sergeant at the department, filed complaints concerning “racially tinged” emails that white officers had sent outn according to a labor hearing officer.
He alleged that he was transferred out of the K-9 unit because he complained to his supervisors and the internal affairs section, known as the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The officer claimed that a number of the emails said he shouldn’t have a voice concerning issues such as the deployment of dogs during Black Lives Matter protests and the Jan. 6, 2021, protest. He stated that the emails were sent on the Capitol Police server and unfairly criticized black supervisors. He also stated that those who sent the emails referred to him as a “joke.”
The employment discrimination claim was filed with the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights in 2021. That was when the Capitol Police removed him from his position, transferring the officer to a non-K-9 position at the Library of Congress.
“The hearing officer sided with Cobbin after a five-day hearing, a decision first made public last month when an OCWR Board of Directors review upheld that conclusion and found it was backed up with ‘substantial evidence,'” Roll Call reported.
The hearing officer found that Cobbin had far superior qualifications as a K-9 training supervisor than his white replacement; that the K-9 unit needed Cobbin’s skills as a training supervisor; that the official who recommended the transfer had knowledge of Cobbin’s complaint about the emails; and that the Capitol Police’s reasons for the transfer were pretextual, the OCWR board’s decision states.
“Unfortunately, the decision about who trains the USCP K-9 teams to protect the Hill was based on discrimination and retaliation, not on who was the best-qualified person to do the job,” Les Alderman, an attorney for Cobbin, asserted according to Roll Call. “And it exemplifies the deep-seated culture of discrimination in the department at all levels.”
When a claim is validated, the person who filed it is reportedly eligible to receive up to $300,000 in emotional pain and suffering damages, an uncapped amount in economic damages, and a reimbursement of attorney fees.
The former sergeant received an undisclosed amount in compensatory damages as well as other concessions from the Capitol Police. According to the board, that included lost hazardous duty pay.
A spokesperson for the Capitol Police named Tim Barber contended that the agency “disagrees with the decision” of the board. He did not state whether the Capitol Police plan to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
“Complaints that concern the Congressional Accountability Act can be decided by a hearing officer after an administrative hearing. The OCWR board can set aside that decision if the directors find it to be arbitrary, outside of required procedures, or unsupported by substantial evidence,” Roll Call noted.
The OCWR board decision, made public Sept. 27, said the hearing officer’s findings “are firmly supported by substantial evidence of Cobbin’s superior qualifications, the other flaws in the USCP’s explanation for its actions, and the temporal proximity between his protected activities and the USCP’s decision to transfer him out of the K-9 division”
Despite that claim, the board was adamant in its finding that the officer was discriminated against.
The hearing officer in Cobbin’s case found Capitol Police witnesses “provided shifting justifications as to the reasons for reassigning Cobbin, as well as inconsistent testimony regarding management meetings and discussions concerning possible replacements for Cobbin to head K-9 training.”
“The Capitol Police contend that Cobbin’s discrimination and reprisal claims were unproven because the official who recommended the transfer denied knowledge of Cobbin’s complaints about the emails and attributed his decision to a concern about morale, the board wrote. The board said it rejected that position since Cobbin demonstrated that the agency was aware of the complaints and that the adverse action took place shortly after the complaints,” Roll Call stated.
The hearing officer also found that the morale problem referenced by the Capitol Police was attributable to the racially tinged emails and Cobbin’s pending complaint about those emails, as opposed to events that were remote in time and not tied to Cobbin, the board wrote.
Cobbin joined the rank and file of the Capitol Police in 2001. He went on to become a K-9 handler in 2009 and led K-9 training periodically between 2013 and 2021 according to the board.
He has now retired. But Cobbin also sued the department in November 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over a history of racial discrimination in the K-9 unit according to Roll Call. Court records indicate the lawsuit was settled on Sept. 22.