WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Monday that the District of Columbia Fire Department's promotion policies under its affirmative action plan are unconstitutional.
The plan's promotion features clearly violate the Constitution, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey said, "as that portion of the plan unnecessarily trammels on the rights and interests of white firefighters. As such, the promotion aspects must be struck down."
The District of Columbia Fire Department has 780 white officers and 494 black officers. Blacks make up about 64% of the district's population.
Segregated Until 1962
Richey said that the district's hiring policies for the Fire Department, which, until 1962, had been segregated by race, are minimally acceptable under the Constitution.
Richey suggested that the city "consider whether there exist any viable alternatives to the procedures set forth in the plan" when it reconsiders its policies within the next 45 days.
In his decision, Richey said that the entire plan must be struck down because one portion of it fails to meet constitutional requirements. And he voided the March 8 promotions of five black firefighters.
Inez Smith Reid, the city's attorney, said that there had not yet been a decision on whether to appeal.
Strict Numerical Goals
The affirmative action plan, calling for strict numerical goals to increase minority representation in the department, was filed in January with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights by the Fire Department as part of a consent decree approved by Richey last year.
The plan came under attack almost immediately from Local 36 of the International Assn. of Firefighters, a union that represents most District of Columbia firefighters.
The Reagan Administration on March 23 filed suit charging that the Fire Department's affirmative action program discriminated against whites by giving preference to minorities in promotion practices.
"This plan overrides the valid job-related promotion procedures and takes away employment opportunities solely on the basis of color," Richard Ugelow, a Justice Department lawyer, had argued last month.
1984 Decision Cited
The Justice Department suit was among actions that the Administration has brought seeking to put various affirmative action programs across the country in line with a June, 1984, Supreme Court decision.
The high court in that case 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.
In the District of Columbia case, the Justice Department said that the affirmative action plan "requires racially based preferences even though the promotional procedures used by (the district) have been determined not to have adverse impact and to be valid."
Richey, in sending the plan back to the district for further consideration, stressed that he "is not ordering any specific action in regards to what the plan must contain to be acceptable."