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7th Circuit rules for city on discrimination claims brought by black officers, firefighters

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment for the City of Indianapolis in two lawsuits brought by dozens of black police officers and firefighters over the examination process used by the city for promotions.

The officers and firefighters brought back-to-back lawsuits targeting promoting decisions made in successive promotion cycles dating back to 2002, but most of the decisions involved testing protocols administered in 2007 and 2008. The second suit involves the years 2010 and 2011. The plaintiffs alleged they were passed over for promotions in favor of candidates who achieved higher composite scores. They claim that the process used to rank candidates for promotion has a disparate impact on black candidates and is intentionally discriminatory.

The examination process consisted of a written test, an oral exercise and an assessment of the candidate’s “personnel profile.” The oral exercise had three parts: an interview, oral assessment in which applicants responded to hypothetical scenarios and a written exercise requiring the applicants to draft reports and correspondence. The firefighter promotion processes also included a practical exercise.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted summary judgment to the city on the disparate-treatment claims in the first suit because the plaintiffs didn’t produce any evidence that using the test results to make promotions was a pretext for discrimination. Barker dismissed the second suit as barred by res judicata because the more recent promotion decisions were made from the same eligibility list generated by the testing process at issue in the first lawsuit.

“First, although the district court mistakenly assumed that allegations of intentional discrimination necessarily defeat a disparate-impact claim, here the disparate-impact claims fail in any event because they are stated as legal conclusions, without any factual content to support an inference that the City’s examination procedures caused a disparate impact on black applicants for promotion in the police or fire departments,” Judge Diana Sykes wrote in Kendale L. Adams, et al. v City of Indianapolis, 12-1874. “Second, the disparate-treatment claims lacked any evidentiary support and were properly resolved in the City’s favor on summary judgment. Finally the claims in the second lawsuit are precluded. Although the new complaint concerns a different set of promotion decisions, it attacks the same eligibility list that was at issue in the first case. The plaintiffs’ challenge to that testing process was fully and finally resolved against them in the first suit, so their second suit against the City is barred.”

 

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