ST. LOUIS • A white police major sued Chief Sam Dotson and the city on Wednesday, saying he was passed over for promotion in favor of a less-qualified African-American major based on race.
Michael Caruso filed the suit in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, claiming he sought a lieutenant colonel position but that Dotson instead promoted then-Maj. Ronnie Robinson.
Caruso, who has been with the department since 1976 and a major since 2013, claims he was the most qualified among three candidates for the job. Caruso’s suit says he learned after the promotion was announced in September that he scored higher than both Robinson and Maj. Rochelle Jones, the other candidate, on a written competency exam.
The police department issued a statement saying it cannot comment on pending litigation.
It did note that promotions follow civil service rules administered by the personnel division, and that officer constituency groups have in the past complained of unfairness both in the promotions of blacks and whites.
Robinson could not be reached for comment.
Caruso’s suit says he was most qualified for the position because of his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which it says Robinson lacks. The suit says Robinson joined the police force in 1990, at least 13 years after Caruso.
It seeks unspecified financial damages.
Robinson is now a deputy chief who heads the Community Affairs Division.
Before Robinson was promoted, the suit claims, “Dotson told Jones that he needed to promote either her or Robinson to the newly created position.” Jones is also black.
Caruso’s suit mentions a 2013 jury verdict that awarded Sgt. David Bonenberger, who is white, about $800,000 over his claims that he was passed over for a leadership position at the police academy in favor of a black woman for racial reasons. Bonenberger sued in 2012 while Dan Isom was police chief. Dotson became the chief in December 2012.
Caruso also complains that Dotson never disciplined high-ranking officers who wronged Bonenberger and that the chief closed an internal affairs investigation into the discrimination claim two days after a court awarded Bonenberger $172,000 in attorney fees. Bonenberger sued the department again in June, alleging retaliation for the earlier legal victory.
Caruso’s suit claims Dotson objected to a federal judge’s 2014 order that he and two top commanders attend anti-discrimination training.