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2 police officers sue city, allege discrimination

– Two Fort Wayne police officers sued the city in federal court, alleging they have been the victims of discrimination.

On Sept. 4, officer Robert Elmer sued the city, alleging he was discriminated against because of a disability, specifically the skin condition eczema. On Sept. 10, officer Boyce Ballinger sued the city alleging he was discriminated against because of his struggle with anxiety and depression.

While the lawsuits name only the city as the defendant, the suits identify one specific command officer – Capt. Timothy G. Bogenschutz – as having been the offending party, having retaliated against both officers by putting disciplinary reports in their files without giving them the chance to review and sign them as required by the collective bargaining agreement with the police union.

In Elmer’s case, the nearly 13-year veteran of the department alleges he was unable to wear the wool winter hat required as part of his uniform because it aggravated his eczema.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, involves scaly or itchy rashes and can be aggravated by contact with rough materials such as wool, according to the National Institutes of Health website. Elmer alleges that the defendant, by name the “City of Fort Wayne,” noticed he wasn’t wearing the standard-issue hat and said he had to do so. Elmer gave a note from his doctor and requested permission to wear a different hat, according to court documents.

Instead of granting his request, Bogenschutz referred the matter to the department’s Internal Affairs division. Internal Affairs investigators interviewed Elmer and granted his request for a different hat as long as a monogram was placed on the hat, according to court documents.

In court documents, Elmer alleges Bogenschutz retaliated against him after he was given permission to wear the hat by putting negative reports in his personnel file without letting Elmer review and sign it first to indicate he was aware of the complaint.

Bogenschutz’s actions prevented Elmer from ranking higher in a promotional test for sergeant, keeping him from receiving the higher rank, according to court documents.

Ballinger alleges in his lawsuit he has been the victim of discrimination and retaliation since he underwent treatment for anxiety and depression in 2010.

Ballinger joined the department in 2003, according to court documents.

When he informed officials of his illness and treatment, Ballinger was subjected to “discrete acts” of discrimination, such as monitoring his GPS activity, according to court documents.

He said he was also given negative comments in his personnel file by Bogenschutz, again without the opportunity to review and sign them.

Ballinger alleges when he reported the discrimination, he was placed on light duty pending a fitness for duty examination. He accuses officials of revealing his disability to others at a meeting in September 2011.

Both officers are seeking compensatory damages and a court order to prevent such actions in the future, according to court documents.

Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York declined to comment on the cases, referring questions to the city’s legal department. A message left with city attorney Carol Helton was not returned Wednesday.