U.S. Charges Bias in Pontiac, Michigan Fire Department Jobs

The U.S. Department of Justice sued the City of Pontiac on Tuesday, saying its hiring and promotions system violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by giving minorities and women one-third of all Fire Department openings and promotions.

The lawsuit follows a complaint that Arthur Frantz, a white firefighter who was passed over for a promotion that went to a Hispanic man, filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"I really hated to see it come to this," said Frantz, 51, a 19-year veteran of the department.

"There have been grumblings all along, but no one would step up and do anything about it," he said. "One of my biggest concerns is that it would affect my relationship with some of my close and dear friends who are minorities on the department, but they told me this would have no bearing."

Frantz' lawyer, James Fett of Pinckney, said the EEOC referred the case to the Justice Department. Frantz also sued the city in U.S. District Court in Detroit in July 2004. That case is pending.

The Justice Department would not comment. The city's lawyer, Eric Goldstein of Troy, said Tuesday: "I believe the practice is justified.

"I believe it is consistent with underlying policies of affirmative action that have been driving such plans for decades."

He said the Justice Department proposed a consent decree, under which the city would agree to resolve the issue. The city is preparing a response.

The vice president of Pontiac's firefighters union, Rick Luxon, said its members have been complaining about the city's use of dual hiring lists for years, but officials didn't act.

"We knew the Justice Department suit was coming, but the city tends to ignore this stuff, thinking if they don't deal with it, it will go away," said Luxon, of the International Association of Firefighters Local 376.

The Justice Department suit named the union as a codefendant in the case because dual lists were negotiated into the union contract in 1984.

Under the dual system, the city maintains a hiring list and promotions list containing the names of all candidates based on test scores. Every third person hired or promoted must be a minority or a woman. If that isn't accomplished by picking from the overall lists, the city turns to the hiring and promotion lists for minorities and women.

The Justice Department lawsuit said the practice discriminates against nonminorities and men. It asked U.S. District Judge John Feikens to order the city to halt the practice and compensate those who were harmed by the process.

Frantz said he tested for a lieutenant's job in March 2002 and scored fifth overall. The city promoted the first two people on the list, both white males, and then turned to the minorities list, promoting a Hispanic man who scored 11th overall.

He said the practice effectively placed him seventh on the overall hiring list, prompting him to file an EEOC complaint.

He said the dual promotion system prevented him from obtaining an 18% increase to his $40,000-a-year salary. "All I wanted was for them to do the right thing," Frantz said. "I had offered to drop the lawsuit a couple of times if they would do the right thing. But they just didn't care."

Distributed by the Associated Press