Thursday, September 19, 2002
High Court Won’t Hear White Deputies’ Challenge to Sheriff’s Promotions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling rejecting charges of discrimination against white males by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, voted 5-0—Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justice Marvin Baxter were absent—not to review the June ruling by this district’s Div. Five in Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association v. County of Los Angeles, B151737.
The panel held that the department did not discriminate against white male sergeants in its handling of promotions to the rank of lieutenant between 1997 and 1999.
In an unpublished opinion made public Friday, the Court of Appeal panel said the Professional Peace Officers Association failed to prove that the county and Sheriff Lee Baca established a race or gender “preference” in violation of Proposition 209.
Evidence presented by the PPOA, including generalized statements by officials favoring “diversity” and the fact that all of the eligible women were promoted while one-third of the eligible white men were not, was insufficient to show that the 1996 initiative was violated, Justice Richard Mosk wrote.
The PPOA sued in 1999, seeking mandamus and injunctive relief. When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe ruled that the union was an inadequate representative of the class of white male sergeants, the pleadings were amended to add seven individual plaintiffs, including Sgt. John Stites, who drew a minimal amount of support as an opponent of Baca’s in the primary election in March of this year.
The suit attacked procedures implemented by the late Sheriff Sherman Block and followed by Baca after he took office in December 1998.
Under county civil service procedures, the Sheriff’s Department maintains a promotional list based on an examination. Applicants who score passing grades of 70 percent or higher are divided into five groups or “bands,” with Group 1 consisting of those with perfect or near-perfect scores and Group 5 consisting with those at or just above the minimum passing grade.
Promotions must be made from Group 1 as long as there are five or more persons remaining in the group. When the number of eligibles in a group drops below five, the department may begin promoting from the next lowest group or groups containing five or more names.
Every sergeant who placed in Group 1 on the 1995 exam was promoted by late 1996 or early 1997, when the department began putting together a list of recommended candidates from Group 2.
Under the procedures implemented by Block, a group of nine commanders periodically reviewed the list and submitted names of those candidates deemed most worthy of promotion. The roster of recommended candidates was then reviewed by the undersheriff, who was authorized to make adjustments before submitting it to the sheriff for final decisions.
Those procedures were skewed in favor of women and minorities, the PPOA claimed. They cited the existence of a county policy on diversity, Block’s statements that diversity in management was a goal of the department, and the commanders’ access to data identifying applicants by race and gender when they met to consider their recommendations.
But Yaffe rejected the arguments, saying that broad support for diversity—as opposed to mandates, quotas, or set-asides—does not translate into a violation of Proposition 209.
Mosk, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed.
Nothing that the county policy or Block said, he explained, commanded or even authorized the department to give preferential treatment to anyone on the basis of race or gender. The commanders and the personnel director, he noted, testified that no one was recommended for promotion based on race or gender, and said they understood the county policy to ban discrimination against anyone based on group characteristics.
Mere statistical disparity between groups, Mosk went on to say, does not establish that the group that had a higher percentage of its members promoted was the beneficiary of an illegal preference. There was, he said, no evidence that the women who were promoted were less qualified than the white men who were not.
Attorneys on appeal were Paul Crost and Neelam Chandna of Reich, Adell, Crost & Cvitan for the PPOA and Principal Deputy County Counsel Albert D. Kelly for the county and the sheriff.
In other conference action, the justices agreed to decide whether the state’s sex-offender registration requires a defendant who was convicted in California but has since left the state to notify authorities here after moving from one out-of-state residence to another.
This district’s Div. Seven held on June 18 in People v. Smith, B146786, that David Woodrow Smith was required to notify police in his former hometown of Long Beach that he had moved from the Boulder, Colo. address that he had given them at the time of a previous move, to a new residence in Port Jervis, N.Y. Smith was sentenced to five years in prison.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company