Lawsuit claims racial discrimination against white lieutenants in promotions
A group of 24 Cleveland lieutenants claims that black candidates were unfairly favored when issuing promotions to captain
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
CLEVELAND — A group of white lieutenants for the Cleveland fire department said in a lawsuit that officials within the department engaged in discrimination by favoring black candidates for promotion to captain.
The lawsuit was filed against the city by 24 lieutenants. All are white, though two are also of Hispanic heritage. It was filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on Dec. 16 and moved to federal court on Friday.
The city administered the captain’s exam in 2017 and the lawsuit says there were “many irregularities and deficiencies … relating to its development, content, administration, and scoring,” the lawsuit says.
Sixty-six lieutenants completed the exam. Of those, 14 were black, 49 were white and three were unknown races, according to the lawsuit. The city in February 2018 established a ranked list of 52 people it claimed has passed the exam and were eligible for promotion before the list expires on Feb. 2 of this year.
The city will have promoted 22 lieutenants to captain by the time the list expires, the lawsuit says. Of those, 13 were white, eight were black and one was an unknown race. That meant 57 percent of the black candidates who completed the exam were promoted, while only 26 percent of the white candidates who completed the exam were promoted, the suit states.
The exam had a “disparate discriminatory impact” on white lieutenants, they said. The lawsuit cites statements Safety Director Michael McGrath and then-Councilman Jeff Johnson made about the lack of black firefights working for the city.
“Upon information and belief, the City developed and/or administered the Exam in a manner that would achieve its stated goals of promoting more African Americans, to the detriment of candidates of other races and national origins, including Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare that the 2017 test had a discriminatory impact on white lieutenants, to award them back pay and an unnamed amount in damages.
Several of the lieutenants filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received “right to sue” notices.
The EEOC sent a letter to the city last year that questioned the testing officials used to sort out applicants to the department, and accused the department of discriminating against black, Hispanic and women.
A city spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Fran Lally, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 93, noted Friday that a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge ruled in a separate case in September against the city in part as it pertained to promotions to assistant chief and battalion chief ranks. He said the union is monitoring both the lieutenants’ lawsuit and the EEOC case.
“It would not surprise me that the city has discriminated against African-American firefighters or applicants, nor would it surprise me if they discriminated against the 24 white firefighters who filed suit,” Lally said.
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