By Shavonne Potts
EAST SPENCER ó In a federal lawsuit filed Friday, Lt. James Schmierer, East Spencer’s interim police chief, accuses the town and four aldermen of racial discrimination and asks for $500,000 in damages.
Nearly a month ago, Schmierer’s attorney, Seth Cohen, sent a letter to the town, mayor, aldermen and town administrator, claiming several elected officials kept him from advancing in the department because of his race.
In 2005, the letter alleges, Mayor Erma Jefferies told Schmierer some board members refused to promote him because of his race.
In February, Jefferies said she looked forward to “this coming to an end where everybody is completely satisfied with the results.”
Since that Feb. 19 letter from the Greensboro attorney, court records indicate the case was first referred to mediation, which apparently didn’t go anywhere.
Cohen filed the suit Friday.
The mayor’s office said she’s expected to be out of town all week and unavailable for comment.
Town Administrator Richard Hunter said he knew about the lawsuit. “I have not reviewed it. I have not reviewed it with an attorney,” he said.
Schmierer’s suit names Hunter as a defendant, saying he “has the authority to hire the chief of police; however, Mr. Hunter has failed to promote Lt. Schmierer.”
Court documents and Cohen’s earlier letter say Hunter didn’t promote Schmierer because he fears aldermen would retaliate against Schmierer and him.
The letter named three aldermen who Schmierer claimed “blocked” his appointment to chief solely because of his race: John L. Rustin, Theodore Gladden and Phronice Johnson.
The letter was addressed to all six of the aldermen, the mayor and town administrator.
However, the suit specifically names the town, Hunter and aldermen Rustin, Gladden, Johnson and Carlton Ellis as defendants.
Johnson, the earlier letter alleged, suggested altering an evaluation of Schmierer done by former Chief Eric Williams. She wanted it “falsified to state that Lt. Schmierer had a negative evaluation, so the Board of Aldermen could then fire Lt. Schmierer,” Cohen’s letter contended.
The other board members refused to do that, the letter says.
“Four members of the six-member Board of Aldermen have actively opposed and prevented Lt. Schmierer from being promoted … based solely upon his race,” the law suit says.
The suit says Schmierer was passed over for promotion in December 2005, when the town hired Williams, who is black, as chief.
He served as interim chief for nine months prior to Williams being hired.
“Lt. Schmierer is qualified for the position of chief of police. Lt. Schmierer has never been disciplined or reprimanded during his employment with the town of East Spencer, and all his employee evaluations have been positive,” the law suit contends.
Williams resigned as chief in June 2007. Since then, Schmierer has served as interim chief.
Schmierer has been performing the duties of chief but hasn’t been promoted to the position, and his salary has not been increased to reflect the position, his suit says.
“On Feb. 4, 2008, Lt. Schmierer received a pay raise of approximately $4,000, effective Jan. 1, 2008; however, Lt. Schmierer’s new salary is below the salary range for chief of police and is substantially lower than the salary paid Chief Williams when he resigned …,” the suit says.
In separate paragraphs, Schmierer demands:
– $250,000 from the town and Hunter.
– $250,000 collectively from Rustin, Johnson, Gladden and Ellis.
In both paragraphs, Schmierer says he deserves damages for, but not limited to, “back pay, front pay, embarrassment, humiliation, pain and suffering and emotional distress.”
Schmierer is also requesting the defendants pay his costs, including attorney fees, for bringing the law suit as well as “prejudgment and postjudgment interest as allowed by law.”
The defendants have 20 days after being served with the suit to answer the complaint.
Schmierer began with the department as a patrol officer September 2002. He was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and then to lieutenant in 2005.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@ salisburypost.com.
By Shavonne Potts