The D.C. Office of Human Rights has ruled that the Metropolitan Police Department program of suspending overweight police officers for five days without pay is discriminatory and violates city law.
The ruling represents a victory for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers and six police officers who challenged the controversial weight program in June. They had charged that the program discriminated on the basis of race and personal appearance.
Human Rights Director James W. Baldwin, in making the ruling, said his office could not establish a pattern of racial discrimination, but it did find that the weight program was discriminatory since it had been applied only to police officers, and not ranking police officials, and had been enforced in only three of the seven districts.
It is unclear what effect, if any the ruling will have on six police officers who are due to be suspended for the five unpaid days later this month for being overweight. Two police officers are currently on suspension for weight problems and two others were suspended in December.
"It's a first step in putting the police department on notice that they must come under the rules and regulations of the D.C. government," said Larry Simons, president of the local chapter of the IBPO.
"We are happy as far as the ruling went, but we still think there is racial discrimination" since the ratio of black officers suspended to white officers is two to one, said Sean Rogers, a union spokesperson.
The human rights office asked both the union and department officials to meet in 10 days to begin conciliating the dispute. The police department that contended the program is not discriminatory and is applied equally to all.
A spokesperson for the police department said the department would have no comment on the decision until its officials have read the ruling.
The police department manual has required since 1969 that all police officers and officials, including the police chief, be weighted semiannually, in February and August.
If any police officer or official weighs more than 15 per cent above his maximum allowable weight as established by a department-prepared chart, he must lose two pounds each month or face suspension.
The chart is prepared by doctors in the police department medical clinic and is based on height and age, said Deputy Police Chief Robert Klotz, who is charge of personnel and training.
"The weight regulation has been arbitrary in its application, not being uniformly applied to all members. . . " said the human rights ruling.
Human Rights Deputy Director A. Franklin Anderson explained that the office found that no police officials above the rank of patrolman had ever been suspended under the weight program.
The ruling also found that of the 24 suspensions that occurred between Sept. 15, 1974, to Sept. 15, 1976, all but one were against officers in the first, third and fifth districts. The one exception was a patrolman in the youth division.
The police department can impose a weight standard but any standard regulating personal appearance must be uniformly applied to all police officers and officials and be based on a "reasonable business purpose," Anderson said.
The ruling said also the office could not determine the "reasonable business purpose" for the regulation.
Rogers said the union supports a weight program but "one that is based on a finding of impairing the ability to work and a program administered by doctors."