A federal judge today dismissed a former Transit Police lieutenant's wrongful-termination suit, ruling he was only fired after an investigation proved he used a locked room for long snoozes when he should have been overseeing officers, not because the department's chief hates White people or his underling hates unions.
This is the second time this year that US District Court Judge Patti Saris has ruled against a former White Transit Police lieutenant who claimed he was fired because of his race. In February, she ruled the issue was not another lieutenant's race but that he'd been caught lying about overtime.
In her ruling today, Sarris also rejected former Lt. Michael Rae's contention that, in addition to his race, he was fired for his role in the union representing superior officers in the department.
According to Saris's summary of the case, Rae's downfall began on Sept. 25, 2016, when a 13-year-old boy had been found asleep around 1:50 a.m. on a T bus at the Southampton depot, next to Transit Police headquarters. An officer sent out to deal with the kid simply took him home, without ensuring an adult was there to care for him, in violation of department rules to check with a state database to see if he might be a runaway - he was - or if he or his family had any relevant abuse or criminal records. The officer also failed to file a required form with the state Department of Children and Families.
When Transit Police superiors looking into those violations asked Rae about the case, he said he didn't know anything about it, which surprised them because, as the shift supervisor that night, he was supposed to be tracking everything officers were doing, and that something like a young runaway sleeping on a stored bus is something that should have come to his attention.
One deputy chief found this so odd he called up the video of the door into the dispatch room, where Rae was supposed to sit - on a platform elevated above the rest of the room - and found that he left, wearing a hoodie, at 1:46 a.m. and didn't return until 6:04 a.m.
Further investigation, which included interviews with other lieutenants and officers, revealed Rae often took long absences from his seat in the dispatch room. The deputy chiefs also found that the "Night Lieutenant's Room," meant to let overnight lieutenants conduct private or sensitive discussions, had had its lock changed. When they brought in a locksmith to break the lock, they found "a “cot set up in the room with a sleeping bag and pillow," a blanket, a heater and a computer.
They also had the locksmith install a new lock. Saris writes that when Rae reported for duty that night, he found he could no longer get into the room with his key and "immediately e-mailed" one of the deputy chiefs asking to be informed of future changes like that and to be given access to the room to retrieve some personal belongings; when he was given access, one of the things he removed was the sleeping bag.
After completing their interviews and reviewing everything from recorded audio from the department dispatch system - to see when Rae got on the radio - to logs of various department databases, which showed when he would access records he might need in his jobs, the deputy chiefs concluded that between July 19 and Oct. 24, 2016, he was absent from the job for a total of 176 hours, 9 minutes, Saris wrote.
So Rae got fired. He appealed to an arbitrator. He lost. In 2019, he sued.
In addition to ruling he was fired for sleeping on the job, Saris rejected his argument that Chief Kenneth Green is biased against White people.
Rae's argument was based on an interview Green gave Big City FM earlier in 2016 about increasing the percentage of minority officers on his force. Saris wrote it was perhaps unfortunate that Green said he wanted to "darken" up the department in the interview but that the interview clearly had no connection to Rae and that it hardly shows that Green hates White people, just that he was looking to increase the department's diversity.
Former Lt. Christopher Maynard cited the same interview in his suit against the department, an argument Saris also rejected in her February ruling in his case.
In that case, although Saris dismissed the racial-bias charge, she did rule that Maynard could continue the case and try to convince a jury that he was fired because of alleged anti-union bias by Superintendent Richard Sullivan, not because he'd put in for overtime he didn't actually work.
However, in her ruling today dismissing all of Rae's case, Saris ruled against the same basic argument that Rae had made. Sullivan may have been angry that an officer posted a photo of him asleep, to the point of vowing to "crush" the union - which Sullivan denies - but Rae produced absolutely no evidence that this was a factor in his firing, something she wrote was "amply supported by the record."
[D]espite making the alleged anti-union comments in June of 2016, Supt. Sullivan did not authorize any investigation against Lt. Rae until [Deputy Chief] Reynolds independently discovered evidence of wrongdoing during an investigation into the mishandling of the September 25, 2016 incident. Moreover, once he approved the expanded scope of the investigation, Supt. Sullivan did not play any active role in conducting it (aside from being physically present when D.C. Reynolds first entered the Night Lieutenant's Office). Nothing in these facts suggest that Supt. Sullivan engaged in "untoward 'digging' to manufacture charges against Lt. Rae."