After a Wednesday morning hearing, 10 New Haven cops claiming they were unlawfully passed over for promotions will persist in suing the city but are no longer seeking an injunction on the city’s plans for current police promotions. Dropping their request for an injunction, they will seek retroactive promotion and monetary rewards in New Haven Superior Court in fall 2013.
The injunction would have prevented the city from promoting officers based on the results of a 2011 Civil Service Board examination. The 10 officers claim those positions are rightfully theirs because they would have been promoted to sergeants based on the results of a 2009 test. The CSB discarded the 2009 results after one year instead of the usual two over concerns that no Latino officers had passed the test.
During a pretrial conference, counselors for the plaintiffs and the city met in closed chambers and struck a deal in front of Judge Matthew Frechette — if the plaintiffs win the case in trial, the city must retroactively promote them and provide full monetary recompense. In return, the plaintiffs agreed to drop the request for the injunction, allowing the city to move forward with planned promotions based on the 2011 test.
“The bottom line is that the plaintiffs have an adequate remedy in law and therefore had no basis for seeking this injunction,” city corporation counsel Victor Bolden said outside the courtroom.
After meeting in closed chambers, the attorneys moved into open court, where they presented the agreement on the record in front of Judge William Hadden Jr. At the request of the plaintiffs’ attorney, John Williams, Bolden stipulated that were the plaintiffs to be successful in court, the city would guarantee the plaintiffs promotions. The city would create new positions or “bump,” as Williams said, current sergeants to other spots if there were not enough openings for the plaintiffs.
When Williams filed the injunction in mid-November, he argued that allowing the city to make promotions based on the 2011 exam results would create a shortage of sergeant positions for his clients in the event of their victory. After the hearing, though, Williams said he is satisfied with the legal remedy available to his plaintiffs, seeing no “irreparable injury” in their retroactive promotions.
Williams told the News that Wednesday’s development does not change the case at all, as the city still has the burden of proving it had legitimate reason to throw out the 2009 test results early.
“What’s clear is that every move they made was ethnically motivated. Our chances of showing they acted unlawfully with regard to the promotions list is good,” Williams said. “In the pretrial, the city’s lawyers said the early dismissal of the exam results was justified simply because they have the power to do that. Judge Frechette was clearly unconvinced. He looked up and said, ‘That’s it?’”
Williams said that the only change resulting from the hearing is the city’s expressed willingness to make retroactive promotions, which he said eliminated the need for an injunction.
Bolden, who will continue to represent the city along with private attorney Nicole Chomiak in the proceedings next fall, said that the case will now come down to the suit under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Bolden said the plaintiffs’ allegations of racial bias in hiring practice lack standing.
“This will all come out in litigation in the fall,” Chomiak told the News, but declined to comment further.
Williams and Bolden arrived in court Wednesday morning expecting to delve into the arguments for and against the suit. As part of his preparation, Williams subpoenaed eight city administrators, including members of the Civil Service Board and Police Commission, to appear before the court. Bolden called many of the same individuals as witnesses.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, a number of the New Haven 10 may be promoted based on the 2011 exam, the results of which will be released early next week. Williams, despite calling the exam “totally subjective,” remained hopeful that some of his clients would be promoted.
The case, which was filed in late 2011, has been compared to a previous case, Ricci v. DeStefano, in which 20 firefighters — the “New Haven 20” —- sued the city over racial discrimination in the implementation of the results of a promotional exam. The Supreme Court, which heard the case in 2009, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.