A federal appeals court ruled against a Chicago police sergeant who alleged department brass helped their wives and girlfriends cheat on the lieutenants’ exam, giving the women an unfair advantage over other applicants.
Hosea Word just missed a lieutenant’s promotion in 2006, as the highest-scoring sergeant not to be promoted. He took the exam again in 2015 and scored even lower on the list.
Word sued the Chicago Police Department and three individual officers – former Superintendent Eddie Johnson, former First Deputy Superintendent Al Wysinger, and former Chief for the Bureau of Organizational Development Eugene Williams. He said the “wives or paramours” of the three men were sergeants who scored highly on the lieutenants’ exam and were promoted.
Word claimed Williams obtained an advance copy of the test and provided it to the three women, who formed a “clandestine study group” that gave them an edge over the other sergeants taking the test.
Word alleged violations of federal equal protection and due process laws and breach of contract. The district court dismissed all counts, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals backed the city, too. The opinion was authored by Seventh Circuit Judge Joel M. Flaum, with judges Kenneth F. Ripple and David F. Hamilton concurring.
Word’s due process allegation was based on a claim that he and other test takers had a “constitutionally protected property interest” in a fair test, but the judges found no grounds for the claim.
“Word does not cite any authority holding that a statute, by merely forbidding an act, creates a property interest in the act not occurring,” Flaum wrote. “It takes little imagination to foresee the chaos that would result if we began to recognize every act forbidden by law as implying a mirror-image property right to the act’s non-existence.”
The court ruled more than 30 years ago in Bigby v. City of Chicago that police officers have no protected property interests in either promotion or in promotional tests, Flaum said.
“We held that while a police officer had a property interest in retaining his job, he had no such interest in an unattained higher rank,” Flaum wrote. “We also ruled that there is no constitutionally protected property interest in a fair examination for promotion.”
The court likewise found no basis for Word’s equal protection arguments: that he was discriminated against in an “arbitrary and irrational” fashion because he was not romantically involved with a CPD leader and that he was discriminated against based on his gender. The latter claim is based on the logic that if the defendants skewed the exam to favor their wives and girlfriends, it gave women an unfair advantage over men.
Word used the “class of one” argument in his first equal protection claim, asserting he received arbitrary and irrational treatment that was not based on his membership in any particular class. The problem, the court noted, is that class of one equal protection claims do not apply to public employees.
As to the second claim, Flaum quoted Preston v. Wisconsin Health Fund, which specifically states that “favoritism resulting from a personal relationship [cannot] be equated to sex discrimination.”
The appellate court also affirmed the district court’s finding on the breach of contract claim – essentially that it was impossible, as there was no express or implied contract between test takers and the CPD to be breached.