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After Decade-Long Battle, The Sixth Circuit Orders the Promotion of Twenty-Eight Police Officers

Posted in Recent Cases

On Friday, a panel for the Sixth Circuit required the City of Memphis to immediately promote twenty-eight African American police officers to the rank of lieutenant. The backdrop of the case began in 2000, when minority plaintiffs successfully challenged the validity of the Memphis Police Department’s promotional process. After a new promotional process was implemented in 2002, thirty-five African-American patrol officers filed suit alleging, in relevant part, that the sergeant’s examination had a disparate impact under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, causing a failure to promote minority officers to the rank of sergeant.

The City was eventually ordered to promote all minority plaintiffs to the rank of sergeant with back pay and seniority, but the district court denied a request by the plaintiffs to compete for promotion to the rank of lieutenant because they lacked two years’ experience in the position of sergeant, an eligibility threshold.

In August 2007, the City announced that it would hold a make-up promotional exam for the rank of lieutenant. The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction, requiring the City to allow the plaintiffs to take the exam, even though they had not actually held the position of sergeant for two years. The court granted the injunction based upon its finding of prior discrimination, which it deemed an “exceptional circumstance.” Twenty-eight plaintiffs received passing scores on the exam; however, the plaintiffs filed for the current injunction when the City failed to immediately promote them to the rank of lieutenant.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the injunction finding the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury, namely, the loss of valuable work experience and opportunities to compete for other promotions. The Sixth Circuit also affirmed substantial harm to others would not result and that the public interest would be served by the injunction because the plaintiffs would all possess the requisite two year experience by the time the promotions took effect and the Police Department would still be adequately staffed.