St. Louis wins reverse discrimination lawsuit

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | 4:29 p.m. CDT; updated 6:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled in favor of the city in a lawsuit that alleged reverse discrimination against two white firefighters.

In its ruling, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the city was not liable for damages to two white firefighters who had alleged reverse racial discrimination. It sent the case back to federal court for further proceedings.

The appeals court said the city was under a 1976 consent decree aimed at increasing the number of qualified black firefighters when two white applicants were denied positions.

The 1976 consent decree was prompted by a lawsuit brought by the federal government and the Firefighters Institute for Racial Equality alleging racially discriminatory hiring and promotions by the St. Louis Fire Department. It required the city to hire qualified black applicants for at least 50 percent of the vacancies for entry-level firefighter jobs.

Michael Martinez and Eric Deeken applied for firefighter positions in the late 1990s and were initially denied. Both maintained that if not for the consent decree, they would have been given jobs. They subsequently filed lawsuits against the city.

Deeken argued the decree was invalid. Martinez contended the city should have sought dissolution of the decree because racial parity had been reached.

A federal court in St. Louis dissolved the consent decree in 2003 after determining racial parity had been achieved. It also held the decree should have been dissolved earlier and awarded tens of thousands of dollars in back pay and benefits to the men dating back to 2001.

Both men were hired once the decree was dissolved.

The appeals court on Tuesday emphasized that the city was obligated to comply with the consent decree as long as it was in place.

"Had the city not complied with the decree, for example, had it violated the 50 percent requirement by hiring Martinez and Deeken, it would have faced a lawsuit by adversely affected black applicants and possibly contempt sanctions by the court," the appeals court wrote.

The district court must consider whether there were any damages after 2003.

Associate City Counselor Nancy Kistler said "it's pretty clear" there were none.

Messages left for the attorneys of Martinez and Deeken were not immediately returned Tuesday.


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