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U.S. Sues Capital Officials, Calling Plan for Fire Dept. Biased Against White Men

March 12, 1985|RONALD J. OSTROW and MAURA DOLAN | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sued District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry and two other officials Monday, charging that a hiring and promotion plan for the local Fire Department illegally discriminates against white men by granting preferences to minorities and women.

The suit, in which Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III reportedly is taking a close interest, marks the continuing emphasis the Reagan Administration places on fighting affirmative action plans that rely on quotas as remedies and benefit persons who have not directly suffered discrimination.

"Racial quotas cause real injury to identifiable persons and are just as inconsistent with federal law as outright exclusion because of race," Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds, the nation's chief civil rights enforcer, declared. "This action should indicate that the federal government will proceed in court to protect the rights of any public employees who are disadvantaged because of their race."

2nd Rights Suit Under Meese

The Justice Department's move Monday marks the second civil rights suit brought since Meese took office last month. In addition, it is the first suit brought on behalf of white complainants in which the department initiated the action rather than intervening in an existing case.

Reynolds said the suit resulted from complaints by Fire Department members over the hiring and promotion plan, adopted last Jan. 17. The suit alleged that the plan contained numerical hiring goals that grant preferences on the basis of race and sex to those who are "non-victims" of discrimination.

In addition, the plan requires that preferences for promotions to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain be made on the basis of race, even though it has been determined that the city's promotion procedures do not adversely affect minorities.

The District's Fire Department currently has 780 white officers and 494 black officers, although blacks make up about 64% of the local population. So far, five minority employees have been promoted on the basis of racial preference, according to the suit.

Injunction Sought

The suit seeks an injunction barring the city from using preferences based on sex or race in hiring and promotion and asks the court to order compensation for persons denied jobs or promotions because of their race or sex, including back pay, seniority rights and priority job offers or promotions.

However, Barry, who was named in the suit along with Fire Chief Theodore Coleman and Personnel Director Clinton A. Hilliard, predicted that the plan would be upheld in court.

"We have worked hard to create a plan and an atmosphere where everyone has an equal opportunity to move forward in the District's Fire Department," Barry said. A hearing is scheduled today before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey.

In several other cases, the Justice Department has filed briefs in which it has sought modifications of existing court-ordered affirmative action plans. The Administration is seeking to bring these plans into line with a decision last June in which the Supreme Court ruled that a move by Memphis, Tenn., to lay off white firefighters to protect jobs held by less senior blacks violated the constitutional rights of the whites.

Action on Airline Ruling

The Justice Department, in another civil rights action Monday, asked for a rehearing on a ruling that prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against the handicapped.

In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that certified airlines must comply with a 1973 act prohibiting such discrimination because the carriers use airports that receive federal assistance. The ruling followed a petition by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and other groups representing the disabled.

In its request for a rehearing, the Justice Department said it agrees that airlines must comply with the anti-discrimination law in their ground operations but argues that the government has no authority over airlines' in-flight operations.

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