White officer sues University of Memphis

USA Today NetworkKevin McKenzie, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal
Published 4:46 p.m. ET Sept. 6, 2017

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Black or African American charges of race discrimination easily outnumber others, but which race has the second-highest numkber?
Kevin McKenzie/The Commercial Appeal

MEMPHIS — A University of Memphis police officer, who is accusing the university of racial discrimination and retaliating against him, has filed a lawsuit against the university. 

John G. Hudgens is white. The university police supervisors he accuses of discriminating against him are black.

Nationwide, about 80% of workplace racial discrimination charges filed for 2016 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were based on complaints by blacks or African Americans.

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Yet white-race charges were the second-most frequent, making up about 12% of all race discrimination complaints filed for that year, statistics provided by the EEOC show.

‘We can expect to see more of these’

As the Trump administration’s Justice Department seeks to sue schools that discriminate against white or Asian students in college admissions, the political climate may encourage more charges of what has been called “reverse discrimination.”

“I think in general the takeaway is that we can expect to see more of these under the Trump administration,” said Aliya Saperstein, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University.

“The president has signaled that he is open to people making these kinds of claims and that his administration is going to take them seriously,” said Saperstein, who in 2013, published a study with Damon Maryl, an assistant professor of sociology at Colby College, called “When white people report racial discrimination: The role of region, religion and politics.”

Black on white police discrimination?

Hudgens, a University of Memphis police officer for five years with more than 30 years as a Memphis Police Department officer under his belt, first filed a discrimination complaint the week after Trump’s election in November. His federal lawsuit was filed Aug. 15 in Memphis.

In the lawsuit, Hudgens contends that a black lieutenant on the university force made racially insensitive comments and that the lieutenant and a black sergeant retaliated against him and other white employees by denying overtime and other actions.

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The retaliation was triggered after he participated in a complaint filed by another officer who claimed gender and racial discrimination, Hudgens claims. 

An attorney representing Hudgens and a spokeswoman for the university declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

What is reverse discrimination

“Reverse discrimination” is a term that spread with a landmark 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case on affirmative action involving Allan Bakke, a white University of California medical school applicant. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the court invalidated the use of racial quotas but said race could be considered in admissions.

The EEOC provides examples of “reverse discrimination” such as the $20,000 settlement in 2009 for a white hostess at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Nashville. She complained that black co-workers harassed her with racial epithets and insulted her about being pregnant with a mixed-race child.

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In 1996, Joseph Ray Terry, a white EEOC attorney in Memphis, successfully sued the agency for race and gender discrimination. Terry won six-figure sums for back pay and attorney fees and a promotion to deputy general counsel at EEOC headquarters.

Emerging perceptions of anti-white bias

While former president Barack Obama was in office, an increasing number of studies showed that many white people felt that anti-white bias was a bigger problem than anti-black bias, Saperstein said.

Researchers Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers summed up that perception with a 2011 article: “Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing.”

For Saperstein and Mayrl’s study, they looked at data from 2003-2006, when George W. Bush was president. They found reverse discrimination lawsuits were more frequent than during the Obama administration, Saperstein said.

Then, 11% of Southern whites reported being victims of racial discrimination, compared with 6% outside the South. The study cited other research that placed the share of white Americans who reported experiencing racial discrimination as high as 38%.

Who is most likely to perceive discrimination?

The Saperstein and Mayrl study found that among white Southerners, evangelical Protestants are more likely to report experiencing racial discrimination.

Outside of the South, political affiliation trumped religion. White Republicans were more likely to report racial discrimination.

“The way we interpreted the findings about evangelical churches in the South and the Republican Party outside of the South is that those are likely contexts where people are hearing the message, are sort of learning to perceive their situations as the result of racial discrimination,” Saperstein said.

Follow Kevin McKenzie on Twitter: @KMcknz

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