Two Fire Officials File Bias Suits Against Charlotte, North Carolina

Two top-ranking Charlotte Fire Department officials are saying the city discriminated against them and denied them promotions because of their race and gender, according to federal lawsuits filed this week.

Lee Belton and Jerome Frederick have worked for the department for more than 25 years and are among its highest-ranking African Americans.

But the battalion chiefs have said they were passed over for promotion to deputy chief because of their race and gender. Now they are seeking more than $600,000 apiece in the lawsuits filed Monday.

Three similar cases are pending in the court system, two of them also filed by Belton and Frederick.

In the spring of 2003, they filed lawsuits alleging discrimination in the promotion process and asked for $600,000.

But in Dec. 2003, the city changed the requirements for deputy chief to include a four-year degree. Chief Luther Fincher, who is white, has a two-year fire science degree.

The policy blocked any further promotions, according to the most recent lawsuits.

"We take all of these allegations seriously and we will investigate the allegations in these suits," said Mac McCarley, an attorney for the City of Charlotte.

"If the allegations are that requiring a four-year degree is a discriminatory practice, we would deny that."