Judge Rules Against St. Louis Black Firefighters' Union

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A federal judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction that would have blocked promotions within the St. Louis Fire Department until questions about unfair testing practices were resolved.

U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel on Friday denied the injunction sought by the Firefighters' Institute for Racial Equality, which represents most of St. Louis' 302 black firefighters.

The Firefighters' Institute has filed a lawsuit alleging that a round of exams administered in January and February to fill openings for battalion chiefs and captains were unfair and corrupt.

The group's chairman, Capt. Addington Stewart, has said the testing company had more white than black staffers evaluating the oral part of the exams. The group also said that some test-takers used inappropriate notes during that part of the exam, which might have given them an unfair advantage.

The battalion chief exam's top scorer was black, as were two other scorers in the top five. But on the captain's exam, no black test-takers placed in the top 10. Sixteen blacks placed in the top 68.

The testing firm, EB Jacobs of State College, Pa., denies any racial bias. It acknowledged that some rules were violated during the testing, but said the unintentional mistakes would not have affected test results. An investigation by St. Louis personnel director Richard Frank did not find evidence of intentional cheating.

On Friday, Stewart said the group is still pursuing the lawsuit, which is intended to force the city to discard the test results and administer a new round of exams.

St. Louis' director of public safety, Sam Simon, said he expected Fire Chief Sherman George to proceed with the promotions as soon as possible.

City attorneys had argued at a hearing last week that leaving the positions unfilled would endanger the public.

Althea Johns, the attorney representing the Firefighters' Institute, said that if the city does go ahead with its eight promotions, only one position would be held by a black. Johns said that if the Firefighters' Institute wins its case, those newly-promoted captains and battalion chiefs could be demoted.

Last fall, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that exams given in 2000, by a different firm, were unfair to minority candidates. The city rejected a commission offer to settle by promoting or awarding damages to black firefighters. The city has been under a Justice Department consent decree since 1976 over charges of racial discrimination in hiring firefighters.

In 2002, one black and three white firefighters were fired after an internal investigation into allegations of cheating on the promotion exam.