New Haven 10 Won’t Block Promotions

Melissa Bailey PhotoBlack police officers fighting the city in court agreed Wednesday to lift a legal roadblock, freeing the city to speed ahead with sergeant promotions.

The agreement took place in state Superior Court on Church Street, where Officer Bruce Bonner (pictured above) and nine other African-American cops have been pursuing a discrimination lawsuit against the city. The so-called New Haven 10 passed a sergeants exam in April 2009 and never got promoted. They claim the city discriminated against them when the Civil Service Commission certified the eligibility list for only one year instead of two because no Latinos passed the exam.

Now the city is looking to name another round of sergeants from a new promotional exam. Fearing they may lose the chance to advance in rank, the plaintiffs called on a state judge to stop the city from promoting any more sergeants until they settle their case. Their lawyer, Attorney John R. Williams, got a judge to schedule an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss a motion to stop the promotions. He subpoenaed eight city officials, who trudged up to the fourth floor of the courthouse for a 9:15 a.m. hearing.

As the cops and city officials waited in a hallway, Williams conferred with the city’s legal defense team in a closed-door meeting before Judge Matthew Frechette. They emerged a half-hour later with an announcement.

“We’ve reached an agreement. All subpoenas are off,” said Victor Bolden, City Hall’s top attorney.

According to the deal, Williams (pictured) agreed to stop trying to block the city’s new promotions through his motion for injunction in court. He agreed to do that because he conceded that his clients do indeed have adequate remedy under the law to seek promotions through their lawsuit. The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, on which the lawsuit is based, enables cops to win only monetary damages, but also promotions, Bolden said. So if the cops win their lawsuit, and a judge so orders it, the city would have to promote the plaintiffs as sergeants.

“Either the jobs have to be created, or people have to get bumped,” Williams explained to his clients. If they win, the plaintiffs would get retroactive pay and benefits. Williams announced he was satisfied with the city’s assurances and would withdraw his motion for an injunction. Bolden and Williams laid out the terms of their agreement in a brief hearing before a second judge, William L. Hadden, Jr.

The decision clears the way for the city to approve the latest eligibility list from a new sergeants exam. Approval could come as soon as Tuesday, when the Civil Service Commission next meets. Promotions would then follow from that list. The city has 18 vacancies out of 54 budgeted sergeant positions. Williams is also representing eight other cops in a federal lawsuit about the same exam.

Most of his 18 clients (combined from both cases) took the latest promotional exam. Some of them may score upcoming promotions off the forthcoming eligibility list, but Williams said that wouldn’t make the lawsuit moot. If his clients had been promoted to sergeant a couple of years ago, they could be in position to take an upcoming lieutenants exam. Their careers—and future earning potential—have been set back, he argued.

“We should be studying for the lieutenants test,” not the sergeants test, Bonner said after the hearing. Bolden maintains the city committed no acts of discrimination.

In a stroke of harmonious cooperation seldom seen when his predecessors battled the Ricci v. DeStefano reverse discrimination case, both Bolden (pictured) and Williams declared themselves satisfied with Wednesday’s agreement.

The city will get to fill some of the long-running vacancies in the police department’s upper ranks. And Bonner and his colleagues can rest assured they won’t lose their window of opportunity to win spots as sergeants through court.

“We’re satisfied,” Bonner said as he walked out of court. He said bumping other cops out of their jobs—one possible outcome of Wednesday’s proceedings—“isn’t something we want to do, but the process is what it is.”

Bonner was joined in court by several other plaintiffs as well as James Rawlings, president of the Greater New Haven NAACP.

The case is not likely to be resolved for at least another year. A trial is scheduled for next fall, with jury selection set to begin Oct. 22, 2013.

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posted by: victor bolden on December 5, 2012  5:10pm

The article above suggests that the City changed position in court today.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

In its previously filed opposition to plaintiffs’ temporary injunction motion, the City stated that the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”)“specifically provides for remedies such as ‘hiring or reinstatement of employees, with or without back pay ....”  The filing goes on to say that “if the plaintiffs prove a violation of the CFEPA, and an entitlement to promotion to the position of Sergeant, the statute provides for any and all relief that is necessary to make the plaintiffs whole.” 

To be even clearer, recognizing that someone has a remedy under the law does not mean that such a remedy should be or even will be awarded.  The City will address the merits of this lawsuit at the appropiate time.

[Editor’s note: the story has been corrected.]

posted by: RobAlbe on December 6, 2012  4:12pm

I think its about time the workers and residents of New Haven to hold the City accountable and force them to change there practices regarding promotions regarding City Workers. How much money does this City have to lose before some forces them to change. I am not saying that anyone in the City Administration is cooking promotions for one reason or another, but Jesus do they make it seem like they are. The workers and residents of this city deserve for the City Administration, the Human Resources office and the Civil Service commission to be transparent. They treat promotions like they a National Security secrets that will de-stabilize civilization. Enough is Enough. There approximately 100 police officers who took a promotional exam two months ago and for some unknown reason the city REFUSES to give them there individual score. Why and then they wonder WHY every promotional exam takening in this City results in a law suit. Make the process more OPEN more Transparent, tell your workers whats going on. It really isnt that hard. They took a test its already scored tell them what they got.

posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on December 6, 2012  6:38pm

I applaud each and every Officer and Detective for standing up for what’s right and just. Racist and unjust practices still occur and we as a people need to tackle and destroy it once its identified.  Each of these plaintiffs were systematically held back in their careers by the city.  I hope they get everything they deserve!

posted by: Walt on December 7, 2012  1:08pm

Looks like the plaintiffs have found that their group did quite well on the newer tests and have decided to double - down on their efforts for promotion and take the promotions from either test as long as it benefits themselves instead of others.

Congratulations for apparently studying this time and getting high scores,as it appears you did.

posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on December 7, 2012  11:46pm

When a Black person is discriminated against, those who can not look past color will trivialize their pain and suffering.  According to certain individuals, “who can not see past go,” it is easier to blame the victim instead of facing reality.  Approximately 70 people took this particular Sergeants exam and approximately 35 made the list.  Out of the 35 that made the list, 21 were Black and many were next in line to be promoted if this list was not prematurely cut after one year instead of the two years it has always been open for.  Whats so different from this case and the Ricci case? Nothing! The only difference is this- Blacks dominated this list and will dominate many more lists to come! The Black Man in this situation is not using “race as a crutch,” as I have heard in the past, but merely using the same judicial system many here would use if discriminated against. Usually those that scream the loudest should be the ones practicing slence, especially when speaking of those who they believe are qualified and others they view as not qualified!  If it were not for nepotism, legacies or the good old boy networks that exist among your kind,  bagging groceries or baking donuts would be to high of a position for many of you to obtain- just ask George Bush Jr.