A Civil District Court judge Wednesday dismissed a request for an injunction filed by unions representing police and firefighters seeking to halt implementation of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s overhaul of the city’s Civil Service system.
Judge Ethel Simms Julien said the request was premature because it was based on fears of what might happen under the revised rules and not on an actual injury resulting from them.
“It’s this court’s belief that at this time this matter is not ripe for consideration, that there is no judiciable controversy to be had in this,” Julien told attorneys for the unions and the Civil Service Commission.
The order ends, for now at least, the effort to have the so-called Great Place to Work Initiative overturned.
Landrieu introduced the sweeping package of changes in the rules for hiring, evaluating, promoting and rewarding city employees in April. The changes were adopted by the Civil Service Commission in August over objections from some Civil Service workers, the Civil Service Commission staff, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Association of New Orleans and the Fire Fighters Association Local 632.
FOP filed suit shortly thereafter, calling the changes unconstitutional and a “return to the spoils system,” and the other unions joined in the suit.
They argued that the rule changes would remove Civil Service protections for classified employees and allow politics to creep into decisions about hiring and promotions.
The lawsuit focuses on the elimination of the “rule of three” provision, which allowed department heads and hiring managers to consider only the top three eligible candidates for a promotion or an open position, based on how they scored on an aptitude test. The administration said the rule eliminated from consideration qualified candidates who could be a better fit for a job based on characteristics other than having the highest test scores, such as additional years of experience.
The lawsuit said dropping the rule opens the door to discriminatory practices and is in violation of the state constitution.
Kim Boyle, an attorney representing the Civil Service Commission, argued Wednesday that the suit was premature because it expressed only “generalized fears, hypothetical situations” and did not present an example of a Civil Service employee who had been harmed by the new rules.
“All they’ve come to court and said is, ‘I believe, I fear, I’m afraid of, I’m concerned that A, B, C, D, E will happen,’ ” Boyle said.
But Ted Alpaugh, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the injunction should be granted to protect employees from negative impacts he said are inevitable under the new rules.
“The purpose is actually to prevent harm,” Alpaugh said. “We don’t have to show actual harm right now. Actual harm at this stage is not required. This is to prevent actual harm from coming.”
Julien agreed with Boyle’s interpretation.
“What the court has before it are, in fact, generalized fears that the parties have as to what may or may not happen,” Julien said before denying the injunction.
The Great Place to Work Initiative revises more than two dozen Civil Service rules in an effort to give City Hall supervisors greater flexibility in hiring, evaluating, promoting and rewarding employees.
The changes are designed to ensure that the city can hire the best applicants for available positions and retain high-performing employees, Landrieu administration officials have said. They also are intended to modernize a system that had not been updated in decades.
Some of the measures, such as increasing the minimum wage for city workers to $10.10 an hour, have been widely applauded.
But others, especially ending the rule of three provision, received immediate criticism when the proposal was introduced this spring. Some Civil Service workers and the Civil Service Department staff urged the Civil Service Commission not to adopt the sweeping proposal in August because, they said, it would leave the city’s hiring and promotional process open to discriminatory practices.
The commission voted 3-1 to pass the measure, with one commissioner abstaining.