SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Thirteen present and former San Francisco police officers sued the city in federal court Tuesday, claiming that they have been discriminated against in promotions because they are white.

Twelve plaintiffs are current officers who allege they were passed over for promotions to sergeant, lieutenant or captain because they are white males. The other plaintiff is a retired sergeant who contends she was passed over for promotion to lieutenant because she is a white lesbian.

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The lawsuit claims violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws and constitutional rights. It asks for an injunction barring the alleged bias and for compensatory and punitive financial awards.

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The defendants include the city, the Police Department, the Police Commission, Mayor London Breed, former Mayor Mark Farrell, Police Chief Bill Scott and former Chief Greg Suhr.

John Cote, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said in a statement, “The SFPD uses lawful, merit-based, competitive civil service examinations in making promotions.

“This system is enshrined in the city’s charter and civil service rules. It’s designed to provide qualified individuals with the chance for advancement while ensuring fair treatment without regard to race, gender, religion, age or other status. We will review this lawsuit and address it in court,” Cote said.

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The lawsuit alleges the city uses an “an obscure and biased promotional process” that makes it possible for officers who score lower on examinations to be promoted over higher-scoring candidates.

The process is based in part on a system known as banding, in which candidates who receive statistically similar examination results are placed in the same band or pool for consideration for promotion. The city can then use other factors such as education and experience to make promotions of candidates within the band.

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The lawsuit alleges the city uses the process to promote a higher percentage of minority and female candidates than would be promoted in a strict rank-order system based on scores.

The procedure was developed as part of the implementation of a 1979 consent decree that settled a discrimination lawsuit filed by Officers for Justice, an association of black officers, in 1973.

The consent decree terminated in 1998, and the lawsuit claims “it is no longer a proper rationale for race-conscious promotions made under a banding scheme.”

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