A Hennepin County jury this week found that the city of Richfield discriminated against two veteran police officers based on their age while hiring for a job.
The jury on Monday ordered the city to pay $75,000 in total damages to Greg Peterson and $50,000 in total damages to Souphanny Dean, who were over age 40 when they applied for a detective position in 2013. Those awards included $25,000 in punitive damages for each officer.
The city is considering appealing the verdict, said attorney Julie Fleming-Wolfe, who represented Richfield in the case.
The officers alleged that the city examination panel used age as a determining factor in the hiring process. They also alleged that a previous age discrimination suit against the city won by Peterson had been a factor in denying him the job.
Ashwin Madia, an attorney representing the officers, said the jury found that the actions of the examination panel violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Under the act, discriminating based on age is prohibited when making hiring decisions.
The suit initially was filed more than two years ago by four officers, two of whom have since left the case.
The plaintiffs alleged that Richfield had given jobs to younger officers with less experience and that it had followed processes ensuring that the favored candidates got better evaluations.
The hiring exam for the detective position mostly was based on a written and oral test, according to the suit.
Two younger officers who applied “scored dramatically higher” in the oral portion than did Peterson and Dean, Madia said, and were promoted to detective.
Peterson was 51 and Dean 44 at the time of the tests.
“What the jury found was that ... at least part of the reason that the younger officers scored so much higher is that the older officers were being graded on a curve,” Madia said. “They were receiving lower grades on the subjective exam in part because of their age.”
As to whether the verdict will prompt a change in hiring processes, Madia said that Richfield leaders likely will consult with the city’s human resources and legal officials before making a decision. Fleming-Wolfe said no other officers have been promoted to detective since the lawsuit was raised.
The suit was first dismissed before an appeals court allowed it to proceed earlier this year. The trial began on Nov. 7 and took four days.
Dean, now 47, is still an officer for the Richfield Police Department, while Peterson, now 54, is not.