Philly Settles Firefighter Discrimination Suit

July 2, 2009 ( - The City of Philadelphia has agreed to a $275,000 out-of-court settlement to a 2007 lawsuit filed by five white firefighters who alleged they were discriminated against in the Fire Department's promotion process.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the January 2009 settlement calling for $30,000 to $40,000 to each plaintiff also included an agreement the department would review the promotions process. The deal had been declared confidential, but the newspaper said it obtained court documents with details through a Pennsylvania open records law.

While the city denied “that it engaged in any discrimination or retaliation in any manner whatsoever,” it agreed as part of the pact to:

  • Develop written procedures for selecting raters – fire officers from other cities brought in to administer promotion tests – that prohibit an expressed preference for minority raters;
  • Instruct raters not to consider race or gender and not provide the raters with racial or gender demographics of the department;
  • Develop guidelines for evaluating communication skills that will be shared with promotion candidates; and
  • Refrain from retaliating against any of the plaintiffs.

The Philadelphia fire lieutenants – Francis J. Hannan, Joseph Lee Jr., Gerard Kots, Michael Wellock and Thomas G. Leonard – sued the city in September 2007, claiming that they had been “systematically or otherwise downgraded” because of their race during the oral part of the July 2005 fire captain’s examination, according to the newspaper.

None of the five was promoted at the time; Hannan and Lee made captain in later promotion rounds. The city’s promotional process is weighted 45% for a written test, 45% for an oral test, and 10% for seniority.

In the suit, the men alleged that the raters were told before the tests that the department “was ‘in dire’ need of minority and female fire officers,” according to the complaint.

Of the 14 raters brought in for the 2005 captain test, 10 were African American. The five white lieutenants lost points for such things as lack of “appropriate eye contact,” mistakenly addressing a female rater as “Sir,” and for “being too wordy,” according to the complaint.

The Inquirer said the city’s decision to settle allowed it to avoid a lengthy litigation and appeals process such as the City of New Haven, Connecticut, experienced from a 2004 lawsuit by 20 white firefighters who challenged their city’s promotion process. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the firefighters’ favor (see  High Court Tosses City’s Move to Invalidate Promotion Exam ).