D.C. Human Rights Director Anita B. Shelton has ordered the city government to fill 60 of 70 available firefighting jobs with members of minority groups and to develop an affirmative action plan to give minorities "preference in all new hiring and promotions" until the percentage of minorities in the fire department approximates the percentage of minorities in the D.C. work force.
Shelton's order, which stems from a complaint by the predominantly black Progressive Firefighters Association, can be appealed to City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers. It was believed by the city's top personnel official to be the first time the District government has ever been ordered to impose a hiring quota to achieve greater racial balance.
Shelton said last night that her order mandates that the 60 minority firefighters be chosen from a pool of 958 persons who passed an entrance examination last November. Although 76 percent of those who passed the test are black, most of the top scorers are white.
The city's personnel department offered jobs to 24 of those top scorers -- all but one of them white -- last April, then retracted the offers when the race of the candidates became known. Barry ordered last April 17 that the 24 be hired, but then suspended all subsequent hiring pending examination of the test.
Rogers said last night that he had not seen Shelton's order, which Shelton said was dated Monday but filed yesterday, and would not comment on what action he might take. "Obviously, somebody's going to appeal," he said.
D.C. Personnel Director Jose Gutierrez, who was named as a respondent in the complaint, said he had not seen the order either, and that he had not decided if he would appeal.
The ruling appears to create a potentially vexing political problem for Mayor Marion Barry. Since the respondents, Gutierrez and Fire Chief Norman C. Richardson, are both Barry's subordinates, it is the mayor who will likely be held responsible for the final decision of whether to appeal the ruling. In appealing, Barry would find himself in the position of a black mayor contending that an affirmative action ruling had gone too far.
Shelton further ordered in her ruling that the city develop an affirmative action plan, to be approved by her office. The plan would establish procedures for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 in the areas of recruitment, selection and hiring, and would be designed to make sure that "minorities be given preference in all new hiring and promotions." Although the complaint was brought by a group of blacks, the ruling appears to cover other minorities as well.
The plan would have to remain in effect until "traditional patterns of racial segregation" in the department are eliminated, until "minorities are no longer underrepresented at all grade levels," and until the percentage of minorities in the department approximates that of the "available work force of the District of Columbia."
Minorities make up about 31 percent of the department's uniformed personnel, Shelton said. The District population is about 70 percent black.
Shelton also ordered that the department hold all future promotions in abeyance for 30 days for review by her office to make sure that they conform to an affirmative action plan for promotions.
The D.C. Human Rights Office is a nearly autonomous agency charged with enforcing the city's human rights law, which bans discrimination by race, sex or sexual preference. It has broad discretion to investigate alleged instances of discrimination in the city and to order remedies that are subject to review only by Rogers, Barry or the courts.
Shelton did not hold a hearing on the case before issuing her ruling. Rather, she read the black firefighters' complaint and the city's response and then issued a summary judgment. The ruling can be appealed to Rogers within 15 days. Shelton said she hoped the issue could be resolved without either party going to court.
Gutierrez said that to his knowledge there has been no previous order compelling the District to institute affirmative action on behalf of minorities. Until last year, the city's personnel system was administered by the federal Office of Personnel and Management.
"We were protected from all that," Gutierrez said. "Now we're kind of like the new kid on the block. We're having to deal with what a lot of other cities have already dealt with."