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Former Purdue police sergeant claims discrimination for relationships with black officers

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A former Purdue police sergeant has sued the university for discrimination, claiming he was targeted for his relationships with black officers.

Ryan Pyle, who is white, makes the allegations in a five page lawsuit filed in federal court.

Pyle said he reported a possible case of weapon tampering against black officers to his superiors, but instead of investigating it, the department instead began "an investigation into Pyle's personal off-duty conduct."

That included his romantic relationship with a black female officer in the department, according to the lawsuit. Pyle claims, "(The department) had an established history of over-looking officer relationships so long as neither officer was African-American."

Ultimately, Pyle said it was that relationship, as well as his standing up for black officers, that led to his firing.

Professor Carlton Waterhouse, who teaches at IU's McKinney School of Law, said that these type of discrimination cases are becoming more common across the country.

"(It's) not the most common kind of complaint, but not a new kind of complaint," Waterhouse said.

Waterhouse said that four circuit courts have ruled that you can be discriminated against because of your relationship with a person in a protected class, such as race or sex. The circuit court Indiana falls under, however, has yet to make a ruling either way.

"It’s not clear whether the 7th circuit is going to join these other circuit courts in recognizing this kind of claim," Waterhouse said.

As for Pyle's claim itself, the first test will be in a district court, where a judge will rule whether there's enough evidence of potential discrimination to move forward with the case. Waterhouse said if it does raise to a high enough level, it could be a case to watch closely.

"I’m not going to make a judgment on ... the evidence, I really don’t know, but the underlying substantive law, I think he’s right in saying these protections should be provided," Waterhouse said.

Purdue University released a statement, reading in part:

“Purdue denies Mr. Pyle’s claims, intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit and will make clear in doing so that his termination was fully justified and based on non-discriminatory reasons.”