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Police hiring draws fire as trial begins

Thursday, June 04, 1998

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In an opening statement on behalf of nine men who sought jobs on Pittsburgh's police force, Samuel J. Cordes told a federal jury yesterday about a Yankee sergeant in the Civil War movie "Gettysburg."

Explaining his reasons for fighting, the crusty veteran tells young Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: "Anyone who judges by the group is a pea wit. You take men one at a time."

Cordes, whose nine white clients contend they are victims of racial discrimination, said the city erred when it changed its police hiring process in 1992.

"They judged people not by the individual, but by the group. The city created a hiring process for no other purpose than to assure that more members of one race would be hired," Cordes told an all-white jury.

In 1993, the nine men sued Pittsburgh and its civil service commission. Their suit says the city uses a half-hour oral exam, given on a pass-fail basis, to weed out qualified white applicants and create quotas for minorities and women.

All but one of the nine plaintiffs are now police officers elsewhere.

Plaintiffs in the case are Michael Hopp, 42, of Morningside, Donald Hamlin, 32, of Munhall, and Charles Knox, 32, of North Versailles, all of whom work for the Wilkinsburg Police Department; John Shamlin, 36, of Overbrook, who's on the University of Pittsburgh police force; Lawrence Skinger, 39, of the North Side, who works at Mercy Providence Hospital; Harry Lutton, 31, of Brookline, a part-time officer in Brentwood who does undercover work for the state attorney general's office; Mark Joyce, 39, of Frederick, Md., a U.S. Secret Service agent; Brian Dayton, 26, of Taneytown, Md., an Army military police officer; and Joe Dinnien, 30, of Philadelphia, who works in sales and marketing for Prudential but was employed in law enforcement in Florida and Cheltenham, a Philadelphia suburb.

In his opening statement, Assistant City Solicitor Randall C. Marshall said the city hiring process was fair. He said the oral exam disqualified 35 percent of white applicants and 35 percent of black applicants.

A written test, he said, doesn't tell an employer everything he may need to know; an oral exam evaluates an applicant's abilities to speak, listen, solve problems and relate to others, and reflects motivation.

The city's rejection of the nine men, Marshall insisted, had nothing to do with their being white males.

"They were rejected for one simple reason: Each and every one of them failed an oral examination," he said.

The nine seek appointment to the Pittsburgh force and back pay from the dates when, they argue, they should have been hired.

Their suit contends that some candidates who took the exam initially were told they had passed but later were notified that they had failed.

The trial resumes today before Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr.

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