Louisville police officer files lawsuit accusing department of bias, discrimination

A Louisville police officer filed a lawsuit against the Louisville Metro Police Department accusing the department of bias and discrimination when promoting and assigning officers to specialty units.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday on behalf of officer Philip Satterthwaite by Sam Aguiar, an attorney who also represents the family of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by police officers executing a no-knock search warrant last year. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, sued three Louisville Metro Police Department officers in late April, accusing them of wrongfully causing her daughter’s death.

In the suit, Satterthwaite, a Black officer who joined the department in 2012, claimed the LMPD’s “buddy system” allowed friends and family members to advance within the department over better-qualified candidates, particularly Black officers.

“The nepotism within LMPD is longstanding, and it is a substantial contributing factor to depleting morale amongst those officers who know that they, regardless of their accomplishments and history of being great police officers, face a stacked deck each time they seek a promotion where others within department connections are also in the candidate pool,” the lawsuit said.

In a statement Thursday, a police spokesman told NBC News that the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

According to the suit, Satterthwaite said he was rejected from positions at the department’s Crimes Against Children Unit and Robbery Unit in 2020 because he was scored unfairly during the hiring process, despite past positive performance reviews. Satterthwaite said he was also denied access to his interview files.

“Race plays a direct and indirect role in advancement opportunities at LMPD,” the lawsuit said. “Until the middle of the 2000’s… Black officers simply did not make the rank of Sergeant.”

Satterthwaite was later chosen as the Diversity and Inclusion Officer, under then-Deputy Chief Lavita Chavous, to “focus on equal opportunity for advancement and openness within the department,” the lawsuit said.

Satterthwaite and Chavous “recognized the inherent flaws in a system where unit commanders were selecting friends and ‘clique’ members for their positions” and uncovered that officers “regardless of race or gender, were losing out on promotions to others who had connections within the department.”

However, in 2021, after Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields took over the top post at the department, Satterthwaite’s position was eliminated, the suit alleges. Instead of addressing issues surrounding “equal opportunities” and “transparency” within the department, Satterthwaite was tasked with a “window-dressing job” to recruit Black individuals to join the department.

The lawsuit is asking for compensatory and punitive damages and for Satterthwaite to be reinstated into his role.

Aguiar said Satterthwaite’s efforts to fix “lack of diversity within specialty positions was courageous and honorable.”

“Everyone deserves to know that they will be promoted based upon their qualifications, rather than who they know,” Aguiar said. “Officer Satterthwaite was placed in a position to make this happen, only to be retaliated against.”