Atlanta--A state appeals court Wednesday halted a judge's order to demote five Atlanta firefighters linked to a tainted promotion exam.
Three other firefighters led a class-action lawsuit contending the city did nothing to address the cheating allegation, and a jury agreed with them.
But the city on Tuesday appealed the decision of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly A. Lee that the five firefighters who scored 90 or higher--- an unprecedented mark --- on the 2010 promotion written exam lose their provisional lieutenant status as of today, and be replaced by seven candidates who scored between 60 and 62 on the test.
"There has been no evidence that there had been any cheating," Deputy City Attorney Eric Richardson contended Wednesday evening in a phone interview.
Firefighters Roderick Armstrong, Victor Bennett and Jason Johnson filed the suit last year, saying the city didn't investigate allegations that an undisclosed number of Atlanta Fire Rescue employees cheated or were illegally helped on the April 2010 exam.
While the jury didn't identify any cheaters, Lee, in her decision last week, alluded that the top scorers should be scrutinized.
"If the people who scored the top scores --- who never scored them before --- didn't cheat, then who did?" she asked during the motions hearing to determine how much the city had to pay in legal fees.
Lee ruled that about 110 employees, including the five top performers, would be eligible to retest, and that the test should be administered by an independent testing agency.
But city officials argued that if the demotions went through as scheduled, it would constitute a direct attack on those five firefighters.
"Five firefighters will lose their jobs," the appellate decision read, citing the city's contention.
Lee Parks, who represents the three plaintiffs and the 160 other Atlanta Fire employees in the class action, could not be reached Wednesday evening for comment.
Richardson added to his concerns for the five firefighters who would be affected by Lee's injunction.
"Ordering these firefighters to retake a test denies them due process and full protection," he said. "They were never sued. The lawsuit was against the city."
While the appeal asks a higher court to explore the verdict rendered last month, Richardson said it also helps to maintain the status quo.
"What this does is allow all the firefighters to stay in their current positions while we argue the merits of the appeal," he said.
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