(CNN) -- Black detectives in the New York City Police Department's Intelligence Division filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging racial discrimination in NYPD hiring and promotion practices.
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed the report last month on behalf of complainants, who accuse the Intelligence Division of employing a "secretive and standardless promotions policy" that promotes white officers ahead of better-qualified African-American officers. They said there is a "secret list" of officers to be promoted, most of them white.
The complaint specifically targets the City of New York, NYPD Deputy Commissioner David Cohen and Assistant Chief Thomas Galati.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne denied the allegations, telling CNN affiliate NY1, "There's no 'secret' list. There's a formal review process that measures job performance, years in rank, etc. in which minorities department-wide have fared better than at any other time, in recognition of their meritorious performance."
The NYCLU said African-Americans are underrepresented in the Intelligence Division. They comprise 18% of all NYPD officers, but 6% of Intelligence Division personnel, according to the complaint. Additionally, the complainants allege that no African-American holds a rank above sergeant, while most serve as third grade detectives, just one rank above regular police officers.
The distinction means a salary difference of $30,000 per year between a third grade detective and a higher first grade detective. It is also a difference of $15,000 per year from a lifetime pension, and the lower ranking excludes third grade detectives from professional networking events and opportunities.
The complainants said they have been passed up numerous times for promotions despite excellent work records and recommendations from superiors.
"The NYPD has chosen to cloak promotions in secrecy, and give the all-white high-level supervisors who run the Intelligence Division unfettered discretion to handpick white detectives for promotion over more qualified African-American detectives," the complaint reads.
It calls for a promotions program that is more transparent and systematic.
Police departments in other cities have faced similar accusations.
The New Haven, Connecticut, Police Department has a relatively transparent system that bases promotions in part on test scores. Officers take a test that is part written, part oral, and those with passing scores are eligible for promotion. However, that system has also led to discrimination suits.
In November, 10 African-American New Haven police officers filed a suit against the city saying they were denied promotions because of their race. Their attorney, John R. Williams, said all 10 officers passed the examination, but few Latino officers scored well. Rather than promote a disproportionate makeup of officers, the city allowed the list of eligible officers to expire one year later.
The move came just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of 19 white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter who sued when the city tossed out results of a 2003 exam because African-American candidates had not scored well.
The city defended the move, saying it is in keeping with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans tests that would have a "disparate impact" on a protected class like minorities.
Williams said the idea of an objective, merit-based test is ideal, but it doesn't work if officials ignore the results.
"Basically they do what they're doing in New York but through the back door," Williams said.
New Haven and New York law enforcement officials deny all charges of discrimination. A civil suit is expected to be filed soon on behalf of the black NYPD detectives.