The City of Atlanta will have to pay three of its firefighters $320,000 for legal fees in a class action lawsuit claiming city officials did nothing to address allegations of cheating on a fire department promotion test, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly A. Lee also ruled that five Atlanta firefighters who scored higher than a 90 on the city’s written test for lieutenant be stripped of their provisional promotions until an independent retest can be given.
The lawsuit, filed last year, alleged that the city didn’t fully investigate the cheating allegations raised against an undisclosed number of firefighters who took the April 2010 promotion exam.
Last month, a jury ruled in favor or Roderick Armstrong and two other firefighters who claimed on behalf of 160 other fire employees who took the test that two assistant chiefs provided answers to a handful of firefighters before the exam.
Deputy City Attorney Eric Richardson disagreed with both the jury verdict and Lee’s decision.
“There’s been no proof … no direct evidence of cheating,” Richardson said.
The jury didn’t indicate which individuals cheated, but Lee on Wednesday pointed at the top scorers when she made her decision to invalidate their promotions.
“If the people who scored the top scores – who never scored them before – didn’t cheat, then who did?” she asked during the hearing.
In addition to stripping the titles, Lee ruled that about 110 employees who scored 60 or more on the exam will be eligible to retest, and the exam now will be administered by an independent testing agency.
About 80 firefighters were promoted from the exam.
Lee Parks, the attorney for the men who brought the lawsuit, echoed demands of Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters that the city conduct an investigation of who cheated and who enabled the cheating.
Parks even suggested that criminal charges be sought.
“Right now, Atlanta Public School teachers are sitting in the district attorney’s office because they did what these fire department members did,” he said. “This is not an administrative issue. We’re talking about criminal activity.”
But Richardson said the city wouldn’t pursue an investigation until the lawsuit is closed.
Judge Lee will finalize her judgment -- including adding details on the company to conduct the retest -- on Friday. Richardson said he will ask at that time that she change her decision to reverse the promotions.
Richardson said the city intends to appeal the ruling.
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