Dept. of Justice Sues City, JFRD for Discrimination | News

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Dept. of Justice Sues City, JFRD for Discrimination
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.

The DOJ filed the suit saying the entities engaged in racial discrimination against black firefighters seeking promotion.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday, the department believes that a written test given to the firefighters attempting to climb the ranks is to blame for the "statistically significantly lower" number of black applicants advancing to higher ranks.  Ranks in question include District Chief (Suppression), Captain (Suppression), Lieutenant (Suppression) and Engineer.

The word suppression listed in the titles refers to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department's Fire Suppression Division.  JFRD is broken into four major divisions: Suppression (also known as Combat), Rescue, Training and Prevention.

"Defendant Jacksonville has pursued and continues to pursue policies and practices that discriminate against blacks and that deprive blacks of employment opportunities because of their race, in violation of Title VII - 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-6," the department wrote in its filing. That section of U. S. Code is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The DOJ claims that the written test being issued to candidates looking to move up has a "disparate impact upon blacks" and isn't job-related.  It furthers alleges that the fire department hasn't tried to do anything to fix these discriminatory processes, which led the justice department to begin its investigation.

In its complaint, the DOJ explained that when vacancies open up at JFRD, candidates for each rank within a division are chosen to move up based on where their name falls on an eligibility list.  Those with the highest scores on the written exams given to the candidates are selected for promotion.

In 2006 and 2009, JFRD did testing for its District Chief (Suppression) rank.  Of those tested, 15 were black and 70 were white, according to the complaint.  Some of those black candidates scored high enough to pass the written test, but didn't score high enough to be at the top of the eligibility list.

In 2004 and 2008, the complaint says the fire department had 49 candidates apply for the Captain (Suppression) position.  Only one black candidate was promoted to the position in 2004, and none were promoted in 2008.

In both cases, the city used the same private firm to create the testing.

JFRD did Lieutenant (Suppression) testing in 2004, 2007 and 2011, according to the DOJ complaint, and once again yielded disproportionate results.  The department saw its number of black candidates achieving promotion dwindle from six in 2004, to one in 2007 and then none in 2011. 

The DOJ complaint notes that the fire department opted to use a different firm to prepare the 2011 test, and the same is true for the fire department's Engineer examinations.

The 2011 Engineer exams were created by a different firm from the one who prepared the tests for 2005 and 2008.  Of the 246 candidates to take the Engineer exam, only 12 were blackl. The DOJ notes that a much lower number of black candidates passed the test as compared to their white counterparts.

Now the DOJ is asking for a court order to stop the city and fire department from using the written examinations in question and force it to redefine the selection processes it uses for promotions.  It also seeks "make-whole relief" for those firefighters already negatively impacted by the promotional process, including back pay, retroactive seniority and even promotions.

"This complaint should send a clear message to all public employers that employment practices that have the effect of excluding qualified candidates on account of race will not be tolerated," said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "At best, these tests measure only a slice of what is necessary to be a supervisor, but they stand in the way of qualified African-Americans advancing in the fire department.  The Justice Department will take all necessary action to ensure that such discriminatory practices are eliminated and that the victims of such practices are made whole."

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