Reverse-Bias Rulings Let Stand by Justices Affirmative Action under Fire in Both Cases

Article excerpt

The U.S. Supreme Court left intact on Monday two lower court victories by white men who claimed that they were victims of reverse discrimination.

The justices let stand a ruling that an affirmative-action plan for promoting black firefighters in Birmingham, Ala., unlawfully discriminated against white people.

And they allowed a white man to collect $425,000 from a Pittsburgh company that he accused of denying him a promotion because of his race.

The announcements were made amid growing debate in all three branches of government over whether such jobs programs are still needed to help women and minorities - and whether such aid is fair to others.

In the Birmingham case, city officials and black residents argued that the plan for promoting firefighters was a valid effort to remedy past bias against black people. In 1981, the city had agreed to settle a discrimination suit by starting a minority jobs program aimed at increasing black employment in the fire department from 2 percent to 28 percent - the percentage of blacks in the county labor force.

The plan set a temporary goal of promoting black people to half of all fire lieutenant openings each year until 28 percent of those jobs were held by black employees. A group of white firefighters sued in 1982, saying the promotion goal discriminated against them.

The fire department ended the 50 percent annual goal in 1989 because it had met the 28 percent overall goal. But the white firefighters' suit continued because they sought back pay.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, ruled last year in favor of the white firefighters, saying the promotion goal violated the guarantee of equal protection.

The appeals court said it found no valid basis for the 50 percent promotion goal when black employees made up a much smaller share of the firefighters eligible for promotion.

In the Pittsburgh case, the justices turned down Duquesne Light Co.'s argument that the award won by Frederick Claus, who is white, should be overturned because there was no evidence of anti-white bias.

Claus joined Duquesne Light in 1964 and since 1985 has been its director of engineering. In late 1987, he sought a promotion. …