Invoking the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Justice Department has sued the city of Alhambra and its Police and Fire departments, charging employment discrimination against minorities.
The suit was filed after the city declined a Justice Department recommendation to revamp its personnel practices, City Manager Kevin Murphy said. The changes would have expanded city recruitment, hiring and promotion of blacks, Latinos and Asians.
Alhambra also spurned a Justice Department recommendation to set up an $800,000 escrow account to settle potential claims, Murphy said.
Alhambra officials acknowledged Tuesday that five or six federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints have been filed against the city, including some for what they called "isolated incidents" of racial slurs.
They denied that Alhambra has violated civil rights laws. Instead, they said, the composition of its Police and Fire departments has not yet caught up with the city's rapidly increasing minority population.
"We're showing excellent progress in affirmative action, and we don't feel we have shown a pattern of discrimination," Murphy said.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claims that Alhambra:
* Failed to recruit, hire and promote blacks, Latinos and Asians on the same basis as Anglos.
* Provided minority employees with less favorable terms of employment than Anglos.
* Failed to eliminate job discrimination against minorities.
"We became aware of the situation in Alhambra and felt that filing the case was appropriate," said Amy Casner, a Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington. She declined to elaborate.
Murphy said the federal agency filed suit without first providing Alhambra with a list of specific allegations of discrimination.
Ten years ago, 47.8% of Alhambra's population was Anglo, according to U.S. Census figures. Latinos constituted 37.6%, Asians and others 13.7%, and blacks 0.9%.
Today, a demographics expert hired by the city estimates from 1990 Census projections that Alhambra is 40% Latino, 32% Asian, 27.25% Anglo and 0.75% black.
Since 1978, Murphy said, the number of minorities in the Alhambra Police Department has almost doubled, from 15.7% to 30.8%. In the Fire Department, minorities have climbed from 3.6% to 14.7%.
Overall, 46% of Alhambra's 624 city workers are minorities, Murphy said.
But city officials concede that only one of 12 police sergeants is a minority and all 10 lieutenants and captains are Anglo. None of the top positions in the Fire Department are held by minorities.
Murphy said he expects that minorities recruited into entry-level positions will become candidates for middle- and top-management positions as they come open. "You don't turn over top positions every week," he said.
The Justice Department lawsuit did not cite specific incidents of discrimination.
But Murphy said a letter sent to the city in April accused Alhambra of denying minorities access to promotions by limiting eligibility for top jobs to the three candidates who scored highest on Civil Service exams. This practice eliminated qualified minority candidates who scored below that, the Justice Department said.
Murphy acknowledged that there had been "isolated incidents" in which minorities in Alhambra's Police Department have been subjected to racial slurs. Those making the comments have been disciplined or sent to counseling, Murphy said. He would not be more specific.
The Justice Department urged Alhambra to use television and radio to recruit minority candidates more aggressively, said Murphy, who noted that the city already advertises in publications such as the Spanish-language La Opinion and Chinese-language newspapers in the San Gabriel Valley.
"The thing that's so ironic is that we've been successful," Murphy said. "In 1989, 56% of all the people we hired were minorities."