U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan has ruled that the District government unlawfully retaliated against a veteran white firefighter who complained of racial bias in promotions, and he ordered the fireman reinstated with back pay to the post of deputy fire chief.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the firefighter, said yesterday the decision means about $200,000 in back salary and benefits for Edward F. Dougherty, who quit the department on Aug. 30, 1980, after being told by a superior that he was unlikely to be promoted.
Hogan, in a ruling signed Thursday and made public yesterday, said retaliation against firefighters who criticized the city on budget, personnel and racial matters "was not an isolated occurrence, but instead constituted an informal custom or policy" of the District.
"We're glad to see that the truth has come out about this situation," said ACLU legal director Arthur Spitzer. "It's perhaps a step toward curing the situation if the department recognizes that somebody's going to have to pay for it.
"Unfortunately, it comes out of the taxpayers' pockets."
Dougherty was promoted to battalion fire chief in 1972 and was named an acting deputy fire chief in June 1975, but he was not promoted to full-time deputy chief. Before his retirement, he was passed over by more junior firefighters, according to court papers.
Hogan said he accepted Dougherty's claim that he was denied promotion by city administrator Elijah B. Rogers because he had filed bias complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
Hogan said an additional factor was Dougherty's participation in a rally at the District Building in May 1980 at which about 300 firefighters protested budget cuts, alleged racial bias in promotions and "interference" by the administration of Mayor Marion Barry in the running of the fire department. Hogan ruled that the District government violated Dougherty's right of free speech when it retaliated against him for participating in the rally.
According to Dougherty's trial testimony, he was told by Fire Chief Norman Richardson in August 1980 that he had been passed over for promotion because of his criticisms of the city government.
When Dougherty asked whether it would help if he dropped his complaint, Richardson said "he did not think so and commented, 'They seem very much resolved and very strong in their resolve not to promote you,' " Hogan's ruling said.
At a meeting with senior firefighters after the May rally, Dougherty testified, Barry and Rogers "expressed unhappiness" with the rally and "essentially told those at the meeting that 'they were either on the team or could get off,' " the ruling said.
Barry and Rogers told the group that Barry "had made recent promotions of blacks to higher level positions to compensate for previous discrimination in promotion against them," according to the judge's findings.
Hogan said he did not believe testimony by Rogers that then-chief Richardson had not recommended Dougherty for promotion in August 1980.
As a result of his difficulties, Dougherty testified, he "felt there was no alternative but to retire because the fire department had been [his] whole life . . . . "