The four Van Buren Township police command officers who sued the township and its supervisor claiming they didn’t get promoted because they are white, have been paid $25,000 each in an out-of-court settlement.
The four agreed to accept the $25,000 each to drop the law suit, which was filed by their attorney Joel Sklar on Nov. 17, 2009 in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
Captains Kenneth Brooks and Gregory Laurain and Lieutenants Dennis Brooks and Kenneth Floro signed the settlement agreement on Jan. 19.
Among other things, they signed off on their previous claims of race discrimination; denial of promotion/job opportunity; claims of lost wages, attorney fees or expenses; claims for fringe benefits; damages; “loss of consortium, loss of affection, affiliation or conjugal relations”; and claims that medical conditions or disabilities arose from the fact they didn’t get promoted.
They also agreed to pay their own taxes on their payoff and pay their own attorney.
The four agree that nothing in the settlement agreement should be construed as an admission of wrongdoing or liability by the defendants: Supervisor Paul White and Van Buren Township.
“Rather, the parties acknowledge that they have entered into this agreement to avoid litigation expenses and court costs,” the Settlement Agreement states.
The Agreement was obtained by the Independent through a Freedom of Information Act request.
If anyone asks the four police officers about the settlement or case, they agreed to say: “The parties have successfully resolved all the issues raised in my/our Complaint. I/we believe that any discussion of the facts of the case will not benefit anyone since all parties are anxious to put the matter behind them and move forward.”
None of the plaintiffs may challenge the validity of any provision of this Agreement without first giving back all the money received.
On Jan. 31, Federal Judge Nancy G. Edmunds signed the stipulated order dismissing all claims in the case. Insurance attorney Thomas L. Fleury stated once that order was filed in the court, he would disperse the checks.
The township is insured through the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority self-insurance pool for municipalities and VBT paid $439,269 in 2010 for insurance premiums and bonds. VBT pays $75,000 deductible for claims and in this case MMRMA would remit the extra $25,000 to the four police officers.
The way the claims are handled is that MMRMA pays the whole settlement fee and figures the $75,000 deductible into the records for the township and takes it out of the pool rebate given to the township annually. The 2010 rebate was $43,000.
Those suing were:
• Kenneth Brooks, 52 at the time of the suit filing, of VBT, employed as VBT patrol officer on Oct. 29, 1979;
• Gregory Laurain, then 50, of VBT, captain, employed as VBT patrol officer in fall of 1982;
• Dennis Brooks, then 50, of South Lyon, lieutenant and brother to Captain Kenneth Brooks. Dennis Brooks was employed as a VBT patrol officer in August 1981; and
• Kenneth Floro, 39, of VBT, lieutenant, employed as patrol officer on April 1, 1996.
The series of events that led to this lawsuit started in May 2009 when Gerald Champagne was fired as VBT Director of Public Safety.
The vacancy was filled by the board on July 7, 2009 with an interim director, Carl McClanahan (who later became director). McClanahan is a retired Detroit Police Sergeant with a master’s degree and residence in the township.
The four officers claimed in their suit that they were not given a chance to apply for Champagne’s position and that Supervisor White had stated his intent to hire a black public safety director. They claimed McClanahan was less qualified than any of them and they were not hired because they were white.
Floro is the only one of the four suing officers who has a college degree.
In August 2009, VBT attorney Patrick McCauley stated “… there existed legitimate questions as to the police officers’ willingness to accept significantly less compensation and their ability to ‘bump back’ to their current union status should they accept, then possibly be removed from the interim position.”
McClanahan’s salary for the interim position was approved at $89,000. Champagne had earned $99,363.88 in direct compensation in 2008 and $119,734 in total compensation, which included fringe benefits.
Captain Kenneth Brooks earned $111,494.44 in direct compensation and $150,908.61 in total compensation in 2008.
Captain Gregory Laurain made $116,931.21 in direct compensation and $155,562.79 in total compensation in 2008.
Lt. Dennis Brooks earned $85,363.88 in direct compensation in 2008 and $122,386 in total compensation.
Lt. Kenneth Floro made $124,312.21 in direct compensation and $158,562.79 in total compensation in 2008.
While there were charges of racial preference from those seeking a recall of the four new township officials elected in November 2008 (including the officers who filed the complaints), Supervisor White stated that McClanahan’s qualifications were the first and only consideration.
At one meeting, Supervisor White stated that he felt it was a “plus” that McClanahan was an African-American because of the diversity in the township population. There are no other black command officers at VBT.
The suit hinged on a statement by Trustee Al Ostrowski at a public meeting that McClanahan was hired “because he was black.”
While supporters of the deposed Champagne – including the three holdover board members — sought a recall election of the four board members who fired him, the February 2010 recall vote was unsuccessful.
Champagne settled out of court with the township on his racial discrimination law suit in March 2010. Champagne had asked for $1.1 million and got $457,000 — $305,000 for himself and $152,500 for his attorney Seifman & Guzall.