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Metro

Judge allows black New Haven officers’ lawsuit

NEW HAVEN — A Connecticut judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed in which black police officers accuse New Haven of racial discrimination over a sergeant promotion test in the same city where the US Supreme Court ruled that white firefighters’ civil rights were violated over a promotion test.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Matthew Frechette denied a move by the city to dismiss the lawsuit.

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Anne Massaro, a civil service commissioner who expressed concerns about a lack of Latinos who passed the test, gave inconsistent testimony about whether the commission voted to stop using the test results after one year, he said.

“While this inconsistent testimony is far less than a ‘smoking gun’ indicating Massaro actually discriminated against the plaintiffs, it could create an inference of discrimination in the mind of a reasonable juror,” Frechette wrote. Massaro declined to comment.

The city plans to ask the judge to reconsider. Massaro was nervous and became confused during her deposition about a meeting three years earlier, but public records, including an audio recording of the meeting, make clear that no such vote occurred, said Nicole C. Chomiak, an attorney representing the city.

In 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled that New Haven violated white firefighters’ civil rights when it threw out 2003 promotion tests results because too few minorities did well.

The city is repeating the mistakes of that case, said John Williams, lawyer for the police officers. This time, New Haven threw out the results after one year, instead of the normal two years, he said.

“And they did that explicitly because they didn’t like the way the results played out in terms of race and ethnicity,” Williams said.

The lawsuit was filed by 10 black officers who took the promotion exam in 2009. The Civil Service Commission certified an eligibility list for promotions containing their names.

But in 2010, the commission did not renew the eligibility list for a second year, the first time it failed to renew a police eligibility list, the officers say, resulting in their exclusion from promotions.

The city denies the eligibility list was certified for only one year because of race.

Massaro testified in her deposition that she and the commission voted not to extend the list, but she later corrected her testimony to say there was no vote. Massaro made more than 50 corrections to her original testimony, but did not explain her reasons, the judge said.

The judge cited her concerns that no Latinos passed the test and that she asked to go into a meeting behind closed doors shortly before raising the concerns to discuss a question that “I don’t think the public should hear.”

A trial is scheduled for April.

The lawsuit comes amid racial tensions in the police department. Black New Haven police officers recently complained about the use of the N-word during a radio transmission in December, and a swastika was drawn on a cruiser in the police garage.

Police Chief Dean Esserman has said the department is was investigating the use of a racial epithet, and the FBI was brought in for forensic work after the signal could not be traced to a specific radio unit.

Esserman also has said there are pending charges against a sergeant who allegedly made a racially and sexually insensitive comment in front of a black female department employee.

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