D.C. fire and government officials denied accusations yesterday of racial bias stemming from four captains being promoted to the rank of battalion chief during the summer.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that 24 captains, all of whom are white, filed racial discrimination complaints on Thursday with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the department’s promotions process gives preferential consideration to less-qualified minorities.
Though two of the captains were black and two were white, the complaint states the promotions made by acting Chief Adrian Thompson were made disproportionately because 54 of the candidates were white and six were black.
Questioned outside a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee oversight hearing yesterday, a visibly upset Chief Thompson told The Times he would not tolerate racial discrimination in his administration.
“As long as I’m the chief, I’m going to see that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Chief Thompson, who made the promotions based on interviews conducted in December and January under the administration of former Chief Ronnie Few, declined further comment because of a potential lawsuit.
Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the city will investigate the claims and respond.
“It’s always troubling when somebody files an EEOC complaint,” she said. “I think there’s a sense that the promotional practices have changed and that’s difficult for many people. Our concern is that the process is lawful and fair.”
Under former Chief Thomas Tippett, promotions from captain to battalion chief were based largely upon seniority.
The captains said they filed the complaint, in part, because the promotions went to those whose seniority rank was 34, 36, 40 and 55.
A candidate for battalion chief is required to have served at least one year as a captain.
When the promotions were awarded, the department had 23 battalion fire chiefs, seven of whom were black. The candidates came from a short list of 12 captains picked to interview for the job. Five of those invited for interviews were black and seven were white.
The rest of the captains were subsequently interviewed after airing complaints to fire and city officials.
Several of the captains who filed complaints said they have been unable to obtain either a rank-order list of the candidates based on their interviews or other records to determine the criteria used in deciding the promotions.
Unlike promotions at lesser ranks, the promotion from captain to battalion chief in the District does not mandate a written examination.
Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said the complaints sent a “bad message.”
“By just looking at the points that were brought out you would think the people who filed the complaint had been targeted, and that was not the case,” he said.
He pointed to a three-page special order Chief Thompson issued Jan. 28 titled “Promotion Criteria,” in which he codified which components will be evaluated for future promotions.