Offer Of Deputy Chief Job To White Firefighters Defeats Reverse Discrimination Claim

In November 2005, the City of Harvey, Illinois decided to hire a deputy chief and three assistant chiefs for the Harvey Fire Department. A sign-up sheet was posted for persons interested in these positions. Nine people signed up to be interviewed for the assistant chief position including Rich Stockwell, Gary Stockwell, Ron DeYoung, and Steve Ciecierski, all of whom are white firefighters with the City. Eight people signed up to be interviewed for the deputy chief position, including three of the four white firefighters.

Prior to the initiation of the interview process, the Fire Chief offered four other white firefighters one of the chief’s jobs. For a variety of reasons, the Fire Chief’s offers were turned down. The position of deputy chief went to Willie Buie, who is African-American. The three assistant chief positions went to Jeff Cook, who is white, William Tyler, who is African-American, and Phil Patterson, who is African-American. Cook had never signed up nor was formally interviewed.

When the Stockwells, DeYoung and Ciecierski sued the City, claiming they were victims of reverse race discrimination, a federal court found that the pre-interview promotion offers defeated the discrimination claim. As the Court saw it, “the City had offered the position to four different white males. Plaintiffs have offered no evidence that could demonstrate that these were illegitimate offers, offers that the City knew would not be accepted, or improper motivation. The uncontested facts, therefore, establish that the City did not use discriminatory bias when filling the positions.”

The firefighters argued that the City had a “minority only” hiring practices since the election of a new mayor in 2003. All but one of the 32 persons hired for the City’s police department since 2003 are African-American or Hispanic. From 2000 to 2002, 11 of the 21 police officers hired in that period were white, three were Hispanic, and seven were African-American. The Court rejected the argument, noting: “This is not necessarily compelling evidence to support an inference that the City discriminated against the majority because it regards the police department, not the fire department.”

Stockwell v. City of Harvey, 2009 WL 1139144 (N.D.Ill. 2009).

This article appears in the August 2009 issue