Nicholas Malfitano Mar. 23, 2016, 8:36am


PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled a city Fire Captain was not denied a promotion to Fire Battalion Chief due to retaliation for filing an earlier lawsuit and grievance, or for racial discrimination.

On March 14, Judge Cynthia M. Rufe ruled James Williamson was not able to prove his charges of retaliation and discrimination against the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Fire Department, its former Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, and the City’s Civil Service Commission.

In 2010, Williamson filed a lawsuit in state court lawsuit alleging “systemic irregularities and racial discrimination” in the administration of Fire Battalion Chief promotional exams, a suit resolved against Williamson on Feb. 4, 2011.

Williamson, like one of his colleagues, sought to apply for a promotion to Fire Battalion Chief in the fall of 2012 along with a group of fellow candidates, but the entire group all encountered problems with the online application system. After Williamson and his fellow candidates filed a grievance with their Union, he said he and the other candidates were arranged to take the eligibility list test in writing, instead.

But Williamson said the group’s grievance was denied and the scores of the five applicants were dismissed. In this dismissal, Williamson asserted he was being retaliated against for filing the earlier litigation, this grievance and for reasons of racial discrimination.

Rufe explained Williamson, in her view, did not properly allege a causal connection between the earlier lawsuit and his dismissal from the Fire Battalion Chief promotional process as an “adverse employment action”, or that such action was retaliatory in nature.

“With regard to the 2010 lawsuit, there is no temporal proximity between the conclusion of the earlier lawsuit and the adverse action, and no allegations of any intervening antagonism,” Rufe said. “In addition, plaintiff alleges that he was treated the same as four other fire captains who were unable to complete the online application, which raises a clear inference that the lawsuit was not the factor motivating defendants’ actions.”

Nor, Rufe said, was the filing of the grievance a form of retaliatory conduct.

“Plaintiff’s union filed the grievance challenging the application procedure for the promotion; once the grievance was denied, defendants removed plaintiff from the promotion list as the decision permitted them to do. The retaliation claims will be dismissed,” Rufe stated.

Rufe added Williamson demonstrated he was a member of a protected class, qualified for the promotion he sought and not promoted, but ultimately did not illustrate his not being promoted through circumstances that would “give rise to an inference of discrimination.”

“The amended complaint alleges that the applicants who were unable to complete the online application were all the same race, but does not allege any actions by defendants that interfered with the application process, or that any other applicants for the promotion to Fire Battalion Chief were treated more favorably than he was. Therefore, the discrimination claim also will be dismissed,” Rufe said.

Rufe, however, granted Williamson the chance to file another amended version of his suit.

“In this case, plaintiff has already amended once as of right, in response to defendants’ first motion to dismiss. Plaintiff has not requested leave to amend a second time; however, the Court will grant plaintiff the opportunity to file a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint,” Rufe said.

The plaintiff is represented by Lloyd G. Parry of Davis Parry & Tyler, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Nicole S. Morris of the City of Philadelphia’s Solicitor’s Office.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-00578

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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