New London settles discrimination suit by police officer
New London ― The city has signed off on an agreement with police Lt. Cornelius Rodgers, awarding the veteran Black officer $570,000, purging his disciplinary records and agreeing to diversity training to settle a federal racial discrimination lawsuit.
Rodgers, who has worked for the city since 2003, filed the suit in 2021 when he was a sergeant, alleging a pattern of systemic racial discrimination spanning a career with the department during which he was the subject of more than two-dozen internal investigations and multiple suspensions for on- and off-duty misconduct.
The suit was filed in the wake of a 20-day suspension levied against Rodgers after an internal investigation determined his use of force was unjustified when he punched a handcuffed prisoner in 2019. Rodgers claimed the incident was self-defense and that the prisoner was within reach of a knife, but also argued that the discipline he received through the years was harsher than his white counterparts at the department.
Rodgers also alleged he was the subject of biased investigations by white supervisers and faced retaliation when he complained about his treatment, resulting in a hostile work environment
The confidential settlement, obtained by The Day on Thursday through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that Rodgers’ discipline for the 2019 use-of-force incident will be “set aside and cannot be (used) in consideration of any future discipline or promotional decisions.” A “last chance agreement,” in place in 2010 because of past disciplinary issues, including another suspension for Rodgers’ use of force, will be “sunsetted” as part of the settlement and “has no future force or effect.”
The city has also agreed to place a letter in Rodgers’ file that “no disciplinary action taken against him between March 1, 2016 and December 31, 2022 can be used against him in any disciplinary or promotional action in the future ...”
Rodgers, who filed the suit when he was a sergeant but has since been promoted, is also now eligible to take the next scheduled captain’s exam as long as he meets department requirements, according to the settlement.
The city has also agreed to the following payments to Rodgers:
– $50,000 in lost wages
– $195,000 over four years for “non-economic compensatory damages on alleged emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life’s activities and harm to reputation.”
– $287,984 for attorneys fees
– $37,015 additional payment for non-economic compensatory damages
Rodgers was represented by attorney Jacques Parenteau, who said in a statement he was pleased that Rodgers and the city reached this agreement “in a way that reflects a commitment to diversity and equity.”
Part of the agreement includes a pledge by the city to create a training program to address implicit bias, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and policing. With the local union consent, there will also be a $3,000 training fund set up to be used by lieutenants and captains for “best police practices” training.
“I would like to thank Mayor Michael Passero and his staff, including Chief Administrative Office Steven Fields and Chief of Police Brian Wright, for their efforts to bring about positive change for the City of New London and for recognizing Lt. Rodgers as a future leader in the New London Police Department,” Parenteau said.
Rodgers and the city issues a joint statement with wording written into the settlement that states the two sides reached “an amicable resolution.”
“While the agreement to resolve the lawsuit does not represent an admission by the City of wrongdoing and the City continues to deny that it treated Lieutenant Rodgers unlawfully, the resolution of this lawsuit and this agreement does present a wonderful opportunity for Lieutenant Rodgers to continue moving forward in his career as a successful member of the New London Police Department with a clean slate by setting aside the discipline he received in February of 2020 for use of excessive force,” the statement reads.
“Lieutenant Rodgers is pleased to be able to put this matter behind him with an agreement calling for positive changes, and the City looks forward to watching Lieutenant Rodgers’ continued success as a leader in the New London Police Department,” the statement reads.
The City Council voted to approve a proposed settlement in June, but final details of the settlement were not agreed on until recently.
Rodgers was honored by the department earlier this year for his efforts to rescue passengers in a vehicle struck by a oil tanker, pulling one man to safety as flames engulfed the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. Rodgers was off duty at the time of the April 21 crash.
Rodgers, reached by phone, said it has been a “challenging chapter in my life.”
“The ultimate purpose of the lawsuit was to force some change here and I believe the mayor and city administration have the same vision for this city and this department that I do,” Rodgers said. “I’m looking forward to a new chapter in the New London Police Department. For once in my 20 years I feel secure working here.”
Rodgers thanks the New London NAACP, state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, and the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers for support.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had an inaccurate total for the settlement.
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