Corrections Officer Loses Reverse Discrimination Claim

James Finley works as a corrections officer for Camden County, New Jersey. Finley brought a reverse discrimination against the County, arguing that in several rounds of promotions, the County declined to promote him because he was Caucasian. Finley argued that the County systematically promoted less-qualified non-Caucasian candidates.

A federal trial court examined the evidence and dismissed Finley’s claim. Starting with promotions that occurred in March 2006 and March 2007, the Court found that “those promotions strongly support an inference of racial indifference. In March 2006, the Warden bypassed both Finley and Officer Clement (African-American) because of their attendance and disciplinary records, and promoted three Caucasian officers. In March 2007, the Warden again bypassed both Finley and Officer Clement and promoted two African-American officers. In view of the prior promotion of three Caucasian officers and the Warden’s bypassing of both a Caucasian and African-American officer in both March 2006 and March 2007, the Court finds that this evidence is alone insufficient to raise any inference that the Warden discriminated based on race when making these promotions.”

The next issue dealt with the June 2007 promotions, when only Finley and Officer Clement were certified as eligible for promotion; the Warden promoted Clement. However, the Court found that “the record demonstrates that Finley was not better, significantly better qualified than Officer Clement, and Defendants’ promotion of Officer Clement does not create an inference of racial discrimination. First, regarding the civil service exam, Finley and Officer Clement were ranked second and third respectively. Not only is that disparity minor, but New Jersey courts have repeatedly emphasized that under the New Jersey Civil Service Act, test scores do not entitle public employees to automatic promotion because they are only one of many legitimate criteria that a public employer may use when selecting between the top three eligible candidates. Thus, Finley’s nominally better ranking on the civil service exam does not establish that he was better qualified for promotion to sergeant or that he was entitled to the promotion. As the Warden explained, consistent attendance was a vital attribute for promotion and, of the two candidates, Officer Clement demonstrated the most improved attendance record.”

Finley v. Camden County Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 2011 WL 2473298 (D. N.J. 2011).

This article appears in the September 2011 issue