Court upholds white police applicants in Pittsburgh case

Tuesday, October 19, 1999

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Nine white men who sued after being bypassed for jobs on the Pittsburgh police force in 1992 have won another round in court.

A panel of federal appeals judges affirmed a lower court ruling that the men were passed over because of their skin color and should be hired and compensated for nearly $900,000 in lost wages and legal expenses.

The latest decision was handed down last week by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In their 1993 lawsuit, the nine contended that the city used a half-hour oral exam, given on a pass-fail basis, to weed out qualified white applicants and boost hiring of minorities and women.

"We all scored high [on the written exam]. They used the oral interview process to fail us," said Michael Hopp, 43, of Morningside, a Wilkinsburg police officer who hopes the ruling will finally give him a spot on the higher-paying Pittsburgh force.

Pittsburgh could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. City Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow could not be reached for comment.

The case followed a 16-year period in which Pittsburgh police were under a court-ordered quota hiring system. From 1975 to 1991, the bureau was required to hire equal numbers of white males, white females, black males and black females.

The quota system was dissolved after a legal challenge by four white male applicants who said the need for quotas had diminished.

Hopp and the other plaintiffs were in one of the first pools of applicants following dissolution of the quota system.

Samuel J. Cordes, attorney for the nine men, said the city should put them to work now. He estimated that the amount owed to his clients as a result of the litigation would continue to grow by about $10,000 a month.

Hopp said nearly seven years of litigation have not diminished his desire to be on the Pittsburgh force.

"I never did it for the money. I did it because I felt I could contribute to the city of Pittsburgh and I still can," he said. "I just wish politics wouldn't have gotten into it."

In 1992, when he took the written exam, he scored 100 out of a possible 110. He thought he had a job, but was ruled out after the oral test.

Two other members of the Wilkinsburg Police Department, Donald Hamlin, 33, of Munhall, and Charles Knox, 33, of North Versailles, also were plaintiffs.

The others are:

John Shamlin, 37, of Overbrook, a police officer at the University of Pittsburgh.

Lawrence Skinger, 40, of the North Side, who works at Mercy Providence Hospital.

Harry Lutton, 31, of Brookline, a part-time officer for Brentwood who also works undercover for the state attorney general's office.

Brian Dayton, 27, of Taneytown, Md., a member of the Taneytown Police Department.

Joe Dinnien, 31, who works in sales and marketing for Prudential Insurance but has experience as a police officer in Cheltenham, Montgomery County, and in Florida.

Mark Joyce, 40, of Frederick, Md., who is in the uniformed division of the U.S. Secret Service.

The appeals court judges upheld an order handed down by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. that said the city must hire the men after they complete any physical and psychological exams required by the police department.

Cohill also ordered the city to pay them what they would have made from the time of the June 1998 jury verdict until they are placed on the force.

Joyce was not awarded back pay because his salary as a Secret Service agent was more than he would have made as a Pittsburgh police officer.

As of yesterday, the amount owed to the men was $881,000. That includes salaries, interest and legal fees.

At trial, Assistant City Solicitor Randall C. Marshall contended that the men weren't hired because they did poorly in the oral examination, not because they were white. The jury held otherwise.

Sustaining the ruling were Circuit Court Judges Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Morton I. Greenberg and David D. Dowd Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio.