Top St. Louis Prosecutor Racial Discrimination Suit Follows A Larger Pattern

Supermajority Education Fund

January 28, 2020

Kimberly M. Gardner was elected as the first black chief prosecutor in St. Louis’ history in 2016 on a platform of criminal justice reform. Now, four years later, Gardner has filed a lawsuit against the City of St. Louis, the police union, a police union administrator, the special prosecutor investigating her office, the special prosecutor’s son and daughter, and a former cop, alleging federal civil rights violation.

The suit cites an 1871 law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was passed to protect black Americans’ civil rights from the Klan during Reconstruction. “The Ku Klux Klan Act was adopted to address precisely this scenario: a racially-motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities by obstructing a government official’s efforts to ensure equal justice under law for all,” the lawsuit reads. “This case cries out for federal enforcement.”

The lawsuit alleges a racist conspiracy against Gardner, who was elected based on her promise to “redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system among communities of color.” But “entrenched interests in St. Louis, including Defendants, have mobilized to thwart these efforts through a broad campaign of collusive conduct, including the unprecedented appointment of a white, ethically conflicted Special Prosecutor to investigate the activities of Gardner’s office and a patently overbroad and unconstitutional ransacking of the office’s electronic files.”

While Gardener’s experience has yet to be adjudicated in a court of law, Gardner’s allegations of racism in the legal profession are hardly an outlier. In 2018, a report from American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association found that women of color reported “highest levels of bias of any group” in the legal workplace. This bias, they said, took the form of different compensation, quality of and types of assignments given, sexual harassment, and parental discrimination. 

Michele Coleman Mayes, the former chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, said the data collection and analysis from the report were a “compelling” answer to anecdotal stories of discrimination. “What [the report] really wanted to highlight is that when you have data that is compelling, it’s almost like a train wreck, but you can’t turn your eyes from it. We wanted to be able to talk about it in a concrete way,” Mayes told Supermajority News.

The report also found that women of color are leaving the legal profession at “alarmingly high rates” of 75 percent by their fifth employment year and 85 percent by their seventh year. This rate has been consistent since the late 1990s. This rate is all the more alarming because, as Dr. Tsedale M. Melaku reported in the Harvard Business Review, women of color make up 8.57 percent of attorneys while black women represent only 1.73 percent of attorneys.

Mayes said the study is the first step toward changing discriminatory systems that surround the legal profession. “You can’t put everything on the backs of people being marginalized,” she told Supermajority News.

Despite this, Gardner is taking the discrimination head-on with her lawsuit. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the suit is being financed by Mothers Against Police Brutality, a Dallas-based organization founded by Collette Flanagan after her unarmed son was shot by police in 2013. After the lawsuit was announced, six black female prosecutors traveled to St. Louis to show their support for Gardner, saying they’ve experienced similar things to Gardner’s allegations. 

Read the full lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, here.