Despite a dissenting opinion that detailed humiliating harassment of black Richmond firefighters by white officers and firefighters, a U.S. appeals court upheld today the dismissal of a job discrimination complaint filed by the black city employes.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was unanimous in upholding U.S. District Court Judge D. Dortch Warriner's dismissal of complaints that black employes were treated unfairly in testing, fitness ratings, traffic accident investigations and discipline for salary garnishments.
Judge John D. Butzner Jr. said in a partial dissent that Warriner improperly assessed evidence of harassment of black firefighters and "misapprehended" federal law in ruling that top city and fire department officials were not responsible for discriminatory acts by lower ranking supervisors.
Butzner said the trial before Warriner included evidence that white fire department officers "express their racial bias by using epithets such as 'niggers,' 'nigras,' or 'spear chunkers' to refer to black firemen; by referring to a black residential section of Richmond as the 'Congo' and by stating that black firemen are not qualified to assume greater responsibility in the bureau."
Butzner was critical of Warriner's denial of relief on the harassment issue because black firefighters had failed to carry their complaints to the bureau chief.
"The futility of this course action," Butzner wrote, "is attested by the chief's response to the humiliation of a black fireman who was harassed by having a simulated hog trough placed before him at the dinner table.
"When the black fireman offered to fight the person responsible, his station captain reported him to the chief.The chief required him to apologize, under threat of discharge, to the white firemen. In the presence of the chief, he did so, while the white firemen ridiculed him."
Butzner said he would require Warriner to compel the fire department to issue regulations against racial harassment and to punish violators. However, a majority of the panel -- Circuit Judge Kenneth K. Hall and District Court Judge Robert F. Chapman -- said Warriner's ruling on the issue was not "clearly erroneous" and therefore could not be overturned.