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Court affirms decision to demote former St. Louis fire chief

A Missouri appellate court upheld the decision of St. Louis officials to demote former St. Louis fire chief Sherman George after he ignored his boss’s ultimatum to make promotions or be disciplined.

In 2004 and then in 2007, George refused to promote firefighters from a list of candidates who passed a promotions test that he considered inadequate. In a lawsuit by Firefighters for Racial Equality, a federal court in St. Louis upheld the validity of the test in May 2007.

George is “very disappointed,” his lawyer, Thomas M. Blumenthal, said this morning. The lawyer, a partner at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, said he will ask for a rehearing by the entire Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District.

George was demoted to deputy fire chief after he refused in September 2007 to promote from a list of candidates. He retired shortly after the demotion, and he challenged the decision to the Civil Service Commission, arguing the director’s order was not valid and alleging racial discrimination and constructive discharge.

This morning a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously rejected all of George’s arguments.

Although the fire chief is the appointing authority and has discretion to hire, promote or refuse to do so, the director of public safety and the mayor have the authority to tell the chief what to do, the court said.

Race was not a factor in George’s demotion; insubordination was, the court said. The court also said George could not show that the city’s reason for demoting George was a pretext for discrimination.

Nancy Kistler, of the city counselor’s office, argued on behalf of the city. Neither she nor city counselor Patricia Hageman immediately responded to an e-mail message.

The case is George v. Civil Service Commission of the City of St. Louis and the City of St. Louis, ED93873.