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White firefighters and police in Macon, Ga., say a court-imposed hiring quota in place for nearly two decades has achieved its purpose and should be discarded. They contend the quotas now constitute reverse discrimination, and they’ve gone to federal court seeking relief. The plaintiffs — 60 firefighters and 16 police — contend that a consent decree and an affirmative action plan adopted in 1981 have achieved their goals and should be ended. In two separate lawsuits, the plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Court Judge Duross Fitzpatrick to dissolve the measures that control hiring and promotions in Macon’s police and fire departments. The lawsuits also seek an injunction prohibiting the departments from making any promotions pending the outcome of the litigation. The city, which is a defendant in the suits, declined comment through the mayor’s office. City Attorney Pope Langstaff declined to comment, citing the city’s policy of not talking about pending litigation. The Macon lawsuits are part of a trend of white workers going to court to challenge decades-old hiring plans that they believe have served their purpose and should be discarded, says Harlan S. Miller, who represents the police and firefighters in the suits. Miller’s firm, Parks, Chesin, Walbert & Miller, has frequently represented plaintiffs in reverse discrimination cases. Miller’s partner, Lee Parks, represents the Southeastern Legal Foundation in its challenge to the city of Atlanta’s minority contracting program. The plaintiffs are challenging a consent decree that the city agreed to abide by in 1981 to settle two separate bias suits brought by black employees. Charles Dudley was the name plaintiff in the 1976 lawsuit. Today he is a member of Macon City Council and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, which oversees the fire and police departments. He believes the consent decree is still needed. He retains unpleasant memories of his early days as a police officer in Macon. “During that time things were pretty bad. Two black officers could not ride in the same patrol car. There were constant racial slurs being said by senior white officers. There were a lot of racist cartoons on display throughout the department,” Dudley says. “There were probably about 11 or 12 black officers on a force of about 150 with the highest one being a sergeant a long time,” says Dudley, who left the department in 1982. Under the 1981 consent decree, the city agreed that 40 percent of all new police and fire department recruits would be black. And 40 percent of all promotions would be given to black officers. The city agreed that eventually at least 31 percent of all ranks of sergeant and above would be filled by blacks. The quota was based on Bibb County’s then-31 percent black population. The city also agreed to fill 20 percent of its entry-level positions in both departments with women. And women would be guaranteed 40 percent of all annual promotions in the fire department and 30 percent in the police department. Miller concedes that the quotas probably were necessary two decades ago. “If you go back and look at the numbers that existed then it would appear that the blacks were being discriminated against. Blacks were not fairly represented in entry-level ranks and they were not fairly represented in upper-level ranks,” Miller says. But Miller argues that the goals of the decree have been met and it is now harming white workers. “Over the course of the intervening 20-plus years the problems have been eliminated. Blacks are fairly represented both at entry-level ranks and promotional ranks above entry-level ranks. This has been the case for some years now in both departments,” he says. “The city continues to explicitly take into account race and gender in making its hiring and promotion decisions when there is no legal justification for doing so.” According to city records, 41 percent of the police department’s 376 employees are black. Blacks account for 36 percent of supervisors with the rank of sergeant and higher. In the fire department, 40 percent of 355 workers are black. Blacks make up 37 percent of supervisors. Miller contends that it’s no longer fair to set aside 40 percent of promotions for blacks. One of the plaintiffs, outgoing Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, a firefighter, says that the measures have held back his career in the fire department. “I have been a firefighter for 30 years and I have been passed over for promotion to lieutenant over a hundred times,” Allen says. “I know the original lawsuit was justified 24 years ago to protect the minorities. But it is time for a change.” Dudley is strongly opposed to dissolving the consent decree. The councilman says he believes that the city needs to hire a full-time compliance officer to ensure that the objectives of the consent decree are being satisfied. “We have made some progress but there is still a ways to go.” Dudley notes that although the city has met the hiring and promotion goals for blacks, it has not done so for women. Miller doesn’t think that’s realistic. “They have always been under-represented and they always will be. It has nothing to do with women being discriminated against. It simply has to do with the availability of qualified applicants.” Dudley responds that the city is not trying hard enough to find qualified applicants. “We have to put forth a more vigorous effort to recruit them. We are being complacent with the attitude that ‘Well, they just don’t want to be firemen.’ We have to offer them something. We need to go into the schools and encourage them to become firemen.”

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