Mostly White Group Of New Haven Firefighters Sue City Over Promotion Policy

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- A mostly white group of city firefighters sued New Haven Thursday, claiming the fire department's promotion policy is one based on political cronyism and nepotism and not on merit.

The 19 white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter allege in their federal lawsuit that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and other city officials have corrupted the civil service process for political gain, the New Haven Register reported.

``These firefighters believe that the city continues to manipulate the merit system so they can reward political cronies, friends and relatives with jobs,'' their attorney Karen Torre said during a news conference Thursday on the steps of City Hall.

She said individuals have been denied promotions ``because they're not the right color, they're not the right political party or they're not related to a politician.''

Two tests for fire lieutenant and captain were thrown out earlier this year after city officials worried that few minority and no black candidates would be promoted. There are 15 vacancies in the two ranks and all but one of the top 15 scores were recorded by white candidates.

``To have the city throw it out because you're white or because you're not African-American is insulting,'' said Frank Ricci, a white firefighter who took the lieutenant's test.

City Corporation Counsel Thomas Ude Jr., a defendant in the lawsuit, denied the group's claims. He said certifying the tests would have violated federal civil rights laws.

``It's as plain and simple as that,'' he said. ``It was not about politics. This administration has hired and promoted more firefighters than any other based on merit, to the extent that it can be determined. Merit includes everyone's merit, not just the white guys.''

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal troubles for the city fire department.

The fire union filed its own lawsuit in state court against the city last month and a group of minority firefighters is expected to sue the union over use of union dues. The minority firefighters contend their dues were used to help pay for a lawsuit they oppose.