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No qualified immunity for city in racially motivated promotions

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of the motion of qualified immunity filed by the City of Indianapolis and several officials in a suit filed by three white police officers who claim they were passed over for promotions because of their race.

Lieutenants Joseph Finch, David Hensley, and Peter Mungovan sued the city, the law enforcement Merit Board, and seven city officials alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because three African-American officers were promoted to captain over them, despite the white officers ranking higher on the then-Indianapolis Police Department’s promotion eligibility list. The city maintained that they were required to promote the African-American officers because of a 1978 decree entered into by IPD and the Department of Justice to rectify an alleged pattern of discriminatory practices adversely affecting African-American officers.

Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch denied the motion, which the 7th Circuit judges affirmed.

In Joseph Finch, David E. Hensley, and Peter W. Mungovan v. Bart Peterson, individually and in his official capacity, et al. No. 09-2676, the appellate court, just like Magistrate Judge McVicker Lynch, found the 1978 consent decree that the city claimed compelled them to promote the African-American officers actually advocated against the use of race for promotions. Section X, “Job Assignments,” is clear that race should have no place in the promotions process. The promotions section, Section IX, contains language mandating that promotions shall be based on relevant standards and criteria applied without considering race or color.

“More specifically, Section IX(D) mandates that any promotional screening tool ‘may not be used more than one (1) time if it has an adverse effect on blacks and it is not shown to be properly validated in accordance with applicable federal guidelines,’” wrote Judge Diane Sykes. “If the Police Department were permitted to adjust the results of any promotional test, ex post, in order to advantage African-American officers, Subsection IX(D) would be of little use because the results of any offending test could simply be manipulated after the fact in order to produce the desired outcome.”

A footnote states that the three officers have since been retroactively promoted based on a separate consent decree entered into between the police department and the DOJ after the federal department brought a suit against the police department alleging it violated Title VII by making promotions on the basis of race and sex.
 

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