DENVER — A federal appeals court is allowing a veteran Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper to pursue a lawsuit that alleges his superiors retaliated against him for complaining that he was the victim of race discrimination.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 Monday against the state of Oklahoma's contention that it was immune from Thomas Trent Pettigrew's lawsuit. He was a captain and commander of Troop A when he sued in 2010 in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City.
The litigation began because Pettigrew, a white man, applied in 2009 for promotion to field major, but a black officer received the promotion. Pettigrew filed grievances, complaining that he had been denied promotion because of his race.
Pettigrew, of Yukon, contended that Oklahoma Commissioner of Public Safety Kevin Ward had been pressured by a “black caucus” to promote a black officer who was less qualified.
Six months after Pettigrew filed a grievance, the state Public Safety Department stripped him of his post. The department told him he was being investigated for potential news leaks about an unrelated complaint that Ward had sexually harassed a female lieutenant.
Pettigrew sued the department, saying he was retaliated against for filing the grievance and that he was discriminated against in the promotion. The Public Safety Department settled the lawsuit by allowing Pettigrew back to work and agreeing not to retaliate against him for suing the department.
Pettigrew sued again in January 2012, alleging the department had retaliated against him by issuing two letters of reprimand to him for workplace conduct after he returned to work.
Senior Judge Tim Leonard denied the department's request to throw out the 2012 lawsuit and the Public Safety Department appealed. Monday's decision by the Denver court upheld Leonard's ruling, allowing Pettigrew's lawsuit to move forward.