Jon Murray, Indianapolis Star, February 5, 2008
A discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday by 20 white firefighters increased the complexity of the legal web facing the new Indianapolis mayor over hiring and promotions in public safety.
The suit says several white firefighters were passed over in promotions to lieutenant and captain in favor of less-qualified black candidates. It is similar to a suit brought in July by Indianapolis police officers.
Both lawsuits aim to push back against three decades of oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice that boosted the ranks of blacks in both forces—so successfully, the federal agency says, it has sought to curtail its involvement.
City officials signaled Tuesday that Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration might break from a past stance in support of keeping the departments’ hiring and promotions policies and retaining federal oversight. Ballard took office last month.
“It’s a sensitive situation when . . . you are accused on the one hand of discriminating against African-Americans and, on the other hand, discriminating against Caucasians,” said Scott Newman, Ballard’s director of public safety.
Newman and Chris Cotterill, the city’s top attorney, said they had not yet evaluated the morass of unresolved issues surrounding the Justice Department consent decrees governing promotions. Neither had seen the new lawsuit, also filed in federal court.
The suit, brought by 19 men and one woman, names the city and Indianapolis Fire Department Chief James Greeson as defendants. It seeks back pay, damages and changes to the promotions process.
In December 2006, the suit says, IFD used promotion lists that ranked candidates based on test scores and interviews. The top 40 on the lieutenant list were promoted. Then officials promoted four black firefighters ranked 44th, 47th, 60th and 77th.
For promotions to captain, the suit says, IFD took the first 31 names on the list and then skipped to the 46th, a black firefighter.
But the latest suit has not drawn Justice Department support. Jeffrey McQuary, the firefighters’ attorney, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rejected claims by Scott and another firefighter, Robin J. Whitaker. The group decided to file the lawsuit on its own.