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Administration Files First Affirmative-Action Suit

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Washington--The Reagan Administration filed a civil suit last week charging that an affirmative-action plan recently adopted by the District of Columbia fire department impermissibly discriminates against white males.

The act was the first time that the Administration has initiated a lawsuit aimed at overturning a hiring-and-promotion plan involving quotas. Previously, its fight against what it terms "reverse discrimination" has been waged in the press and in friend-of-the-court briefs filed in lawsuits brought by unions or individuals.

'Real Injury'

"Racial quotas cause real injury to identifiable persons, and are just as inconsistent with federal law as outright exclusion because of race," said William Bradford Reynolds, head of the Justice Department's civil-rights division, in a statement announcing the filing of the complaint with the federal district court here.

"This action should indicate that the federal government will proceed in court to protect the rights of any public employees who are disadvantaged because of their race," he said.

A spokesman for the department said the civil-rights division "is looking at a few other places" where3similar plans have been adopted and is deciding whether to file lawsuits challenging their legality. Educators have closely monitored cases in this area of civil-rights enforcement because their outcomes could affect teachers and other school workers.

Mr. Reynolds said the suit was based on complaints from city firefighters. To date, five black firefighters have been promoted to sergeant under the plan's provisions.

According to the Administration's complaint, the plan adopted by the department last January violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it contains numerical hiring goals that give preference to individuals who have never been identified as victims of discrimination.

It asks the court to issue an injunction setting aside the plan. In addition, it requests that the court require the city to develop a new plan that does not "prefer one person over another on account of the person's race, sex, or national origin" and to compensate white male firefighters denied jobs or promotions with back pay, seniority rights, and promotions.

In a related development, Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, last week conceded to report6ers that his recent attacks on black leaders have been "a little counterproductive," adding that he will "get out of the way" of the debate between the Administration and the civil-rights advocates on affirmative action, school desegregation, and the Administration's civil-rights record.

"I do think it's important for me to get aside and see what the American public is talking about," Mr. Pendleton said in an interview with the Washington Post.

The flamboyant commission chairman has drawn fire from several prominent civil-rights organizations for having called preferential hiring and promotion plans "a dead issue" and for labeling many of the nation's black leaders "new racists." Earlier this month, several of the groups, led by a prominent black Congressman, cited those statements as the reason for their boycott of a commission hearing on affirmative action. (See Education Week, March 13, 1985.)

Later in the week, Mr. Pendleton told reporters that President Reagan had called him after reading the story in the Post and encouraged him to continue speaking out against the use of quotas in affirmative-action plans.--tm

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