St. Louis Public Radio News
6:14 pm
Tue June 29, 2010

Appeals court upholds demotion of Sherman George

St. Louis – The Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri has upheld the 2007 demotion of the first black fire chief in the city of St. Louis.

The demotion of Sherman George had its roots in a 2004 decision by the director of personnel to use a test for promotion that George believed was racially discriminatory. A federal court in 2007 ruled the test was valid, and both Mayor Francis Slay and the city's director of public safety ordered George to make the promotions and staff the fire department at the appropriate level. When George refused, he was demoted and retired shortly thereafter. He later sued, saying his firing was racially motivated and infringed on the discretion given to him in the city charter to make promotions.

The appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that the charter did not give George the right to ignore a direct order from his superiors. The court also ruled that there was no evidence that George was demoted for anything other than disobeying that order.

George said Tuesday he would probably appeal the ruling. He has a second lawsuit pending against the city alleging that his firing violated the Missouri Human Rights Act.

In a statement on his Web site, Mayor Slay said he appreciated the court's recognition of "the difficult decisions that the Public Safety Director and I had to make in order to move the Fire Department forward," and praised George for his years of service to the department.

Read the opinion here