Boston has settled a decades-old lawsuit over discriminatory hair drug testing for $2.6 million.
“This settlement puts an end to a long, ugly chapter in Boston’s history,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director at Lawyers for Civil Rights, one of the two firms who represented the black police officer plaintiffs, in an emailed statement. “As a result of this flawed test, our clients’ lives and careers were completely derailed. The City has finally compensated them for this grave injustice.”
The test at the heart of the lawsuit was one employed by the city to detect the presence of controlled substances in hair follicles, which the plaintiffs in the nearly 20-year-old lawsuit argued came back with disproportionate numbers of false positives for black people. Experts in the case testified that not only was the test unable to reliably distinguish whether drug remnants found in hair were the result of ingestion — which would be the point for the testing — or from exterior contamination.
What led to the disproportionate number of black testees returning false positives, experts argued, was because of the unique texture of their hair as well as commonly used grooming products led to more likely external contamination.
This is a developing story.