In early 2016, Hialeah Police Officer Louis Herrera applied for a promotion to sergeant, feeling confident about his chances. He was excited about the job, which promised a raise and a bigger role at the department. But despite scoring well on the required exam, he was wasn't chosen. The same thing happened when he applied again a year later.
Herrera thought the reason was obvious: He was being discriminated against — because he's a man.
Last week, he filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Hialeah, arguing gender discrimination and violation of his Title VII rights. He's seeking an injunction preventing the city from continuing the practice, as well as back pay.
But the vast majority of the department's sergeants — about 86 percent, according to figures shared with New Times — are men. Of 49 sergeants, only seven are women, says agency spokesman Carl Zogby, who declined to comment directly about the lawsuit.
Yet Herrera says it's only because of his gender that he's been prevented from joining those male-dominated ranks.
In his lawsuit, the officer argues he was well qualified for the promotion because of his evaluations, job performance, and high score on an exam given to every applicant for sergeant. Applicants are ranked according to their performance on the exam, and promotions are supposed to be prioritized by that ranking, Herrera's attorney argues.
But Zogby says promotion decisions are not based on test scores alone.
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"The employee as a whole is considered," he says.
As proof of the discrimination claim, the suit says that on two occasions since 2016, female officers were promoted over several "better qualified" male candidates who scored higher on the exam. The decisions were made "based solely on their gender," the suit argues.
But a March 2015 Miami Herald article reported that all eight officers promoted to sergeant in that round of promotions were male.
Herrera's lawyer, Anthony Perez, did not respond to an email asking how he knew gender discrimination was a department-wide practice given the wide disparity between female and male sergeants. In an email message, he did, however, say the complaint would be amended to add that Herrera was also being discriminated against because of his military service as an Army Reserve officer — another surprising charge because many law enforcement agencies give preference to candidates with military experience.