Judge Knocks Down Army Promotion Process

The Army's officer promotion process, which considers past bias against women and minorities, has been struck down by a federal judge on grounds it discriminates against white men.

Because promotion boards are not required to also consider whether there has been discrimination against white men, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled Monday, "This undeniably establishes a preference in favor of one race or gender over another, and therefore is unconstitutional."

Army records of promotions indicate no factual basis for taking race or gender into account, the judge held.

Lamberth's ruling allowed retired Lt. Col. Raymond Saunders, who served in the Army from 1974 until 1997, to continue his lawsuit contending that the policy denied him advancement. He was twice denied promotion to colonel.

Such promotions are handled by a selection board, which recommends the top candidates for promotion each year to the Army secretary. The board is guided in its decisions by instructions that include equal opportunity goals.

For instance, the board, after compiling a list of top candidates, must determine whether their promotion would result in comparable advancement rates for all races. If not, the board is to give more weight to lower-rated minority officers if past discrimination is found in their files.

In 1996, the board recommended its top applicants with no adjustments. In 1997, when Saunders applied a second time, the board made one adjustment in the list for a female applicant.

In his suit filed in 1999 against the Army, Saunders claimed that, as a white man, the equal opportunity policies barred him from advancement. He claimed that race and sex targets unconstitutionally guide both the initial rankings of top candidates by the board and the subsequent review of the list.

"The Constitution prohibits the Army from using its policy view to encourage special treatment for minorities and females," Lamberth said.

The Army argued that Saunders had not suffered because the board made no adjustments in 1996, and he would not have been promoted anyway in 1997. Lamberth denied the Army's request to dismiss the case, saying its evidence was inadequate.

The judge also denied Saunders' request for an immediate decision on the Army's liability, saying Saunders still must prove he was specifically harmed.