Pontiac—The Justice Department and the city of Pontiac have agreed that the city will end a practice designed to hire and promote more women and minorities in its Fire Department.
Under the consent decree, the city will offer jobs, promotions, back pay or seniority to four white males deemed to have been unlawfully denied or delayed opportunities as a result of the policy.
The agreement comes amid a fierce debate in Michigan over a ballot initiative that would ban such affirmative action policies. State voters will decide in November whether to ban the use of race as a factor in university admissions and government hiring.
“It’s really very, very vicious to have the Justice Department come in and try to reverse the great gains we’ve made,” said Shanta Driver, a spokeswoman for By Any Means Necessary, the group opposing the Michigan ballot drive to ban affirmative action.
Under Pontiac’s policy, one out of every three of the department’s hires and promotions was to go to a woman or a minority.
The Justice Department began an investigation after Pontiac firefighter Arthur Frantz filed a federal lawsuit in 2004, alleging he was passed up for promotion to lieutenant because he is white. The case is to go to trial in September.
“Art Frantz could be the poster boy for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (ballot proposal) because everything (Pontiac) has done is what will be prohibited by that ballot initiative,” said James Fett, Frantz’s lawyer.
The federal government sued the city and its firefighters union in 2005, alleging the practice discriminated against men and non-minorities and violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The case is unusual.
Traditionally, the Justice Department has entered into consent decrees with municipalities deemed to have discriminated against women and minorities, with affirmative action policies sometimes being part of the agreed-upon remedies, said Charles Shanor, a law professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta.
But in 2006, the Justice Department sued Southern Illinois University over three fellowship programs the department said discriminated against white males.