An article Thursday incorrectly described a provision of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit alleging racial bias in the D.C. Fire Department. Under the proposed settlement, black firefighters who were employed as of Jan. 1, 1980, would be compensated by the D.C. government. (Published 10/30/90)

A six-year-old class action lawsuit over alleged race discrimination in promotions and hiring in the D.C. Fire Department is moving toward a settlement in federal court that would cost the District $3.5 million in payments.

U.S. District Judge Charles Richey has given all the parties in the lawsuit until 4 p.m. tomorrow to file their responses to a proposed settlement. Under the terms of the proposal, the District would compensate every black firefighter employed before Jan. 1, 1980 -- a number estimated at 100 -- as well as about 500 blacks who took the 1980 hiring exam.

The exact amount individual firefighters would receive would depend on how long they worked for the department, according to a description of the proposal on file in federal court here. But the total settlement is expected to be $3.5 million.

The settlement also calls for examinations for promotion to sergeant, lieutenant and captain to be given on Dec. 15. The promotion process has been suspended since 1984.

"This settlement favors no party, ignores no party, and puts a substantial amount of money forward to settle serious claims in a reasonable way," wrote Special Master Stephen A. Saltzburg in a letter sent in early August to attorneys representing various sides in the case. Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington National Law Center, was appointed by Richey in April to arbitrate a settlement in the case.

"It is not a perfect solution," Saltzburg wrote in the letter, on file in court here, "but all of you should reasonably wonder whether a more perfect solution is likely to be available in a trial."

Until now, the case called Hammond v. Barry has stubbornly resisted all efforts to move it toward an amicable conclusion. In the summer of 1989, the three sides in the case -- the District, black firefighters and white firefighters who intervened to protest some proposed affirmative action remedies -- were embroiled in a dispute over which experts to hire to draw up a new promotions test.

The District has never disputed the plaintiffs' contention that racial discrimination has influenced hiring and promotion practices in the fire department, but it has not agreed with the plaintiffs on a solution. In a 1985 memorandum, attorneys for the city noted that at the time white males in the department outnumbered black males by almost 2 to 1, even though there were twice as many black males as white males in the District's work force.

There are still potential snags awaiting this phase of the proposed settlement. More than a dozen firefighters -- black and white, current employees and retired -- attended a hearing in Richey's court on Tuesday to protest some aspect of the agreement.

The next step will be for Richey to approve or reject the agreement. There was no word on when he might rule.