Rochester cop gets $1M to settle discrimination complaint

A Rochester, Minn., police lieutenant has reached a $1 million settlement with the city to close out a discrimination complaint she filed alleging unfair treatment as a high ranking female officer on the force.

Eli Umpierre served for 25 years before Chief Roger Peterson put her on paid administrative leave after receiving a complaint that she'd posted inappropriate comments on Facebook during the presidential political campaign on issues including the police shootings of black men and the anti-oil pipeline protests near North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

Umpierre said she also received a termination letter after she filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in April 2016. However, the decision to fire her never came to fruition.

The city, she said, discriminated against her for speaking out, pointing out the possibility of bias in the department, and for being "one of the only liberal thinking people" in the department. "I wrote on my page 'history shows that sometimes laws have to be challenged or broken for the good of the masses. I stand with history on the side of the protesters.'"

Another post said, "None of this is going to change at all until all white male cops say it needs to change. How (expletive) up is that."

Jana Sullivan, a League of Minnesota Cities attorney who represented the city in the matter, declined to elaborate on the nature of the complaint citing state law. But she said it resulted in no disciplinary action.

Umpierre argued her comments were based on facts and were intended to stir up conversations about events during that time, not to incite violence as the complaint alleged.

"And without having more cops than not advocating for change as to when we use deadly force, it is never going to happen without the majority of officers getting on board," she said.

Sullivan said the settlement isn't an admission of wrongdoing.

"We wanted to settle this case because it really brought finality to the case both for the city as well as Ms. Umpierre as well as all the residents," she said. "We thought that was the best in this case because protracted litigation could've taken years in this particular case."

Umpierre's posts came a few months after another Rochester police officer was under investigation for racially-charged Facebook posts. Officer Ben Schlag posted an image of a car running over protesters and another that talked about shooting Muslims in the face.

According to an investigation file obtained by the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Schlag "acknowledged that some (not all) of the Facebook posts considered in isolation by an uninformed observer ... could be perceived as racially charged and offensive" and that he "does not harbor any actual racial animus and his posts do not reflect any actual race-based animus on his part."

The Post-Bulletin reported Schlag received a 10-day unpaid leave and is undergoing racial sensitivity training. For Umpierre, that kind of behavior should've resulted in termination.

Her job, she said, was placed in jeopardy "for saying let's talk about when we use deadly force and when private security should release dogs on protesters, and for reporting what I'm required to by law, a possibility of bias."

The settlement includes a $600,000 payment to Umpierre and $400,000 to her attorneys at Halunen Law. Umpierre is expected to file retirement papers on Wednesday.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.