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IRF Trounces Quota Crowd By: Frederick R. Lynch
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 12, 1998

Investor's Business Daily | August 12, 1998

BALLOT INITIATIVES TO END racial and gender set-asides—such as those in California and Washington state—get all the big headlines. But less well known is the legal trench warfare being waged against those programs.

From New Jersey to Texas to California, foes of preference programs have won big in court. The latest victory, which got little play outside of Los Angeles, came last month.

Police Lt. Rich Dyer rocked his city's civic and legal establishment in July with an unexpected reverse-discrimination win in federal court against the Los Angeles Police Department.

Reverse-discrimination cases are still rare. And the LAPD—long seen as a bastion of white-male prejudice—seemed an unlikely place to win one.

Dyer sued in '96 after he lost a coveted helicopter pilot's position in the LAPD's air-support unit to an allegedly less-qualified black colleague. But his journey to the courthouse was a lonely one.

Though there was muted support within Dyer's unit, he sensed a taboo against any discussion of the case. His most stalwart supporter was his late wife, also an LAPD officer, who died of leukemia last year.

Dyer sought legal relief from the department's equal employment opportunity office, to no avail. Eventually, his case was taken on by the nonprofit Individual Rights Foundation.

For more than a year, Dyer's lawyers dug up evidence to convince U.S. District Court Judge William Keller that the LAPD did, in fact, discriminate illegally against both Dyer and another white officer.

Dyer's suit was really the culmination of several diversity drives by LAPD's top brass. At the air-support unit, pressure mounted as early as '89, when the unit's captain vowed that "three of the next four pilot openings would be filled by minority officers."

Judge Keller was stunned to find that interim Chief Banyan Lewis was on record stating: "We absolutely needed a black sergeant in there because we have minority fliers." And prior to interviewing Dyer and other candidates for the pilot's job in '96, one of the three interviewers asked the other interviewers: "Is there a need for a particular protected class here? Is affirmative action going to be considered in your decision?"

That was enough for Judge Keller. He granted Dyer double the amount of back salary he requested and ordered the LAPD to pay his attorney's fees. But the court stopped short of granting an injunction against earlier court- ordered practices that fed the reverse-discrimination pressures that injured Dyer in the first place.

Judge Keller said he couldn't grant such an order, as there was no direct testimony that a prior consent decree was the cause of the discrimination against Dyer and another applicant.

Still, Dyer's unexpected victory struck a blow against the media-driven myth that there is no such thing as reverse discrimination. The court's decision alters the calculus of preferential hiring and promotion—not just at the LAPD, but across the city.

Employers have long assumed that only ethnic minorities and women are likely to sue—aided by government agencies and civil rights groups. Dyer's win will embolden others to bring reverse discrimination cases against the LAPD and other agencies.

Just as important, Dyer's courage puts another crack in the "spiral of silence" that has long suffocated criticism of ethnic and gender preferences.

Silence stalls reform. Dialogue promotes change. Dyer himself benefited from publicity stemming from earlier court cases, as well as Proposition 209, the ballot measure that ended state-sponsored racial and gender preferences in California two years ago.

Increased public awareness and cynicism about affirmative action also made it easier for Dyer to deflect catcalls of "racist" and "whiner." Colleagues and higher-ranking officers of all colors occasionally whispered words of support. The message: "It's about time!"

Similar sentiments echoed on talk radio. After the court's ruling, Los Angeles feminist and late-night radio host Tammy Bruce tried to dismiss Dyer as a "crybaby." It didn't work. Nearly all the callers sided with the brave cop who won a big victory on the road to restoring the original civil-rights mantra, "without regard to race, color or creed."

Frederick R. Lynch teaches government at Claremont McKenna College in California and is the author of Invisible Victims (Praeger, 1991) and The Diversity Machine (Free Press, 1997).

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