Twenty-five white D.C. fire captains filed suit in U.S. District Court yesterday, accusing the city government of discriminating against them in September when they were passed over for promotions.

The suit marks the latest round in a long legal wrangle between the District and its white firefighters over the city's policy of increasing the number of blacks throughout the D.C. Fire Department.

The suit says Fire Chief Theodore Coleman designated 13 other captains -- eight blacks and five whites -- to serve indefinitely as acting battalion chiefs, starting Sept. 15. The suit asserts that the 25 whites were passed over even though their qualifications were "superior" to those of the eight blacks. It says several of the whites had been acting battalion chiefs.

A spokesman for the D.C. corporation counsel's office said the District government would not be able to comment on the lawsuit last night.

Last spring, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey invalidated the department's affirmative action plan for promotions up to captain on the ground that its racial quotas "deprive innocent whites of their legitimate expectation of advancement." But Richey approved the hiring portion of the plan, which also sets aside about two-thirds of the jobs for blacks, as necessary to overcome past dscriminatory practices.

The ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, with the U.S. Justice Department arguing strongly against "reverse discrimination."

Yesterday, James R. Barnett, a lawyer for the fire captains who filed the new suit, said the September promotions, appear to follow the same racial formula as the department's original affirmative action plan. Its long-range goal is to hire and promote blacks in proportion to their representation in the D.C. work force.