Hosea Word is a sergeant and aspiring lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department. When he took the departmental lieutenants’ exam in 2006, he was ranked 150th of all candidates. The sergeants ranked 1 through 149 all received promotions. Sergeant Word was the highest-scoring candidate who did not. In 2015, when Word next took the exam, his ranking fell to 280th. He was passed over a second time.
Word sued, claiming the promotional process was inappropriately influenced by the romantic relationships between high-ranking supervisors and candidates for the lieutenant position. He identified three men: former Superintendent Eddie Johnson, former First Deputy Superintendent Al Wysinger, and former Chief for Bureau of Organizational Development Eugene Williams. According to Word, each of these men’s “wives or paramours” were Department sergeants who took the 2015 exam and then received promotions.
Word also alleged that Williams had early access to the exam and provided test content to the women, who formed a clandestine study group and cheated their way to passing scores. For example, Word claims that Wysinger’s wife went from ranking 280th in the 2006 exam results to first in the 2015 results.
Word’s complaint argued that the romantic relationships deprived him of due process. A federal trial court disagreed and dismissed Word’s complaint.
Word’s contention was that he and other legitimate test-takers had a constitutionally protected property interest in a fair lieutenants’ examination “free of cheating and rigging.” The Court’s response was pithy: “Word does not cite any authority holding that a statute, by merely forbidding an act, creates a property interest in the act not occurring. The cases on which he relies are inapt.”
The Court went on to observe that “Word argues that cases and statutes need not contain language explicitly declaring a property interest exists but has not shown why we should find a property interest here. It takes little imagination to foresee the chaos that would result if we began to recognize every act forbidden by law as implying a mirror-image property right to the act’s non-existence.
“We need not engage in such conjecture, as we already have determined that there are no protected property interests in either promotion within the Department or a fair examination for such preferment. It is not the examination that the applicant is interested in – no one likes taking tests – but the job. As we and other courts have held, state law does not provide a property interest in state promotional procedures.”
Word v. City of Chicago, 2020 WL 57642 (7th Cir. 2020).