HomeCrimeJudge dismisses claims of racism against GPD and its K-9 unit
Judge dismisses claims of racism against GPD and its K-9 unit
September 12, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gainesville Police Department (GPD) K-9 officer Edward Ratliff’s claims that he experienced racial discrimination and retaliation while working in GPD’s K-9 unit have been dismissed by a federal judge.
Ratliff sued the City of Gainesville in July 2022, and U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor granted summary judgment to the City in June 2023; Ratliff’s appeal was dismissed on September 1 for failure to pay the filing and docketing fees.
Judge Winsor wrote that he resolved all disputes in Ratliff’s favor and still held that he had not suffered discrimination or retaliation.
First removal from K-9 unit
Ratliff, who is black, worked at GPD from 2008 until 2021 and joined the K-9 unit in 2015. After he joined the unit, his personal dog got into a fight with his K-9, and he was removed from the unit for performance issues that included the incident with the two dogs. The removal was approved by then-Chief Tony Jones. Judge Winsor ruled that this claim was outside the four-year statute of limitations.
Second removal from K-9 unit
Ratliff rejoined the K-9 unit in 2017 and was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in 2018 because of further problems relating to his K-9 handling; he successfully completed the Plan. After completing the Plan, Ratliff and his K-9 were involved in a use-of-force incident, and he was recommended for removal, with his sergeant writing that “Ratliff does not have what it takes to be a dog handler.” Chief Jones again approved the removal.
After the removal, Ratliff met with Chief Jones and a black lieutenant and claimed that he had been treated differently than other K-9 officers. However, Judge Winsor ruled that Ratliff was unable to offer examples of officers who engaged in the same basic conduct and were treated differently.
Workers’ compensation claim
Ratliff injured his hand during the use-of-force incident and received workers’ compensation benefits. An anonymous tip was received, claiming that he had misrepresented his injury, but the allegation was determined to be “unfounded.” Ratliff’s original complaint in this lawsuit alleged that he had been discriminated against for filing a workers’ compensation claim, but this claim has been severed from the discrimination and retaliation claims and is not included in Judge Winsor’s ruling.
However, a note in Judge Winsor’s ruling states that when Ratliff sought additional benefits, an administrative law judge found he had “intentionally ma[de] three false, fraudulent and misleading oral statements to obtain workers’ compensation benefits” and terminated all future benefits.
Non-selection for detective position
In March 2021, Ratliff applied for one of two open detective positions and was the fourth-highest-scoring applicant. Because the highest-scoring applicant was unavailable to transfer, the second- and third-highest-scoring applicants were selected. Judge Winsor wrote that Ratliff admitted in a deposition that his non-selection was “[n]ot necessarily related to [his] race” and ruled that Ratliff had not been forced from the job by intolerable conditions because the last reported instance of race-based harassment was about six months before he resigned: “This does not come close to meeting the objective standard for a constructive discharge claim.”
Some of Ratliff’s claims were related to racist language used by other officers, but the judge found that Ratliff never formally reported the incidents and that he had admitted that one incident “had no real merit on… what went on at K-9.” The judge found that Ratliff voluntarily socialized outside of work with the officers he later accused of using racist language and that Ratliff said in a deposition that the language “doesn’t affect me doing my job.”
Ratliff resigned from GPD in April 2021. During an exit interview, he alleged that he had faced harassment throughout his GPD career, and Chief Jones helped him file a complaint through the City’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
Judge Winsor wrote that Ratliff’s claims of racial discrimination “fail as a matter of law. He has not shown that a reasonable jury could find for him on any of them.”
Regarding the retaliation claim, Judge Winsor found that Ratliff did not demonstrate a causal link between his statutorily protected expressions and adverse actions by GPD. Specifically, the judge found that Ratliff did not claim any statutorily protected expressions or argue that anything he said led to the adverse events of non-selection as a detective or the asserted retaliatory hostile work environment.
Judge Winsor ruled that Ratliff did not experience a hostile work environment because the standard requires that the treatment be “both subjectively and objectively severe or pervasive.” In addition, many of the examples provided by Ratliff occurred away from work when he was voluntarily around his off-duty colleagues. The judge wrote, “Here, the use of racist language–while inexcusable–occurred a handful of times over Ratliff’s thirteen years with GPD. These infrequent occurrences almost all occurred at off-duty social events… And the language was not directly threatening or humiliating to him. Even though some was extreme, this does not make up for its infrequency.”
“Dismissed on the merits”
In his conclusion, Judge Winsor wrote that the racial discrimination and retaliation claims were “dismissed on the merits,” with a third claim related to Workers’ Compensation remanded to state court.
Ratliff’s attorney: “Disappointed in the judge’s ruling”
Ratliff’s attorney Alfred Truesdell told Alachua Chronicle that he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling because he believed the “racist comments described in the complaint provided enough evidence to show that there is an atmosphere of racism at GPD and in the K-9 unit.” When we asked why Ratliff had not pursued the appeal, Truesdell told us that Ratliff decided not to pursue the case further because it would be expensive and he wanted to get on with his life; Truesdell also said that he and Ratliff had decided it was unlikely that an appeals court would overturn the district court ruling.
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