3 white police sergeants sue Baltimore department

Lawsuit claims officers unfairly denied promotions that went to minorities

February 23, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Three white sergeants have sued the Baltimore Police Department, claiming they were passed over for promotions last year by commanders who favored minority officers with lower test scores.

"The commissioner has stated publicly that he intends to use the promotional process to promote minorities, notwithstanding the fact that white males may be better qualified," says the lawsuit, filed Feb. 5 in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Sgts. Kurt J. Ellinger, James V. Kelly and Brian A. Matulonis asked the court to order their promotions to lieutenant, and seek retroactive pay and $1.3 million in damages.

"Throughout his tenure, the commissioner has also engaged in a pattern or practice of skipping white males in order to promote minorities," the seven-page lawsuit says.

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, declined to comment on the case, noting the department's policy of not discussing pending litigation.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has been embroiled in racial controversy since the beginning of his tenure in 1994. Black officers have complained about discrimination, particularly in the disciplinary process.

In the wake of the controversy, Frazier has repeatedly provided numbers showing he has promoted more African-American supervisors than previous commissioners. Black officers make up about 36 percent of the 3,200-member force.

Frazier has increased the number of black sergeants from 62 to 94. But the number of minority lieutenants has not risen as sharply. Eleven of the 96 lieutenants were black when Frazier started. That number is now 13 of 105.

The three sergeants said in the suit that they took a promotional exam in late 1997 and promotions were made from the list Jan. 16, 1998. Ellinger placed first on the list, Matulonis was fourth, and Kelly was fifth.

"Sgt. Ellinger was skipped in order to allow promotions of one Hispanic female and two black males, and Sergeants Matulonis and Kelly were skipped to allow promotions of two black males," the lawsuit says.

The city code allows Frazier to promote any one of the top five scoring applicants. The suit says Frazier unfairly skipped qualified applicants and persuaded a white sergeant to remove himself from the list "with an implied promise of future promotion."

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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