On March 25, 2009, the United States Department of Justice filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of African-American applicants to entry-level firefighter positions. The plaintiff alleged that, from 2004-2008, the City of Portsmouth fire department's practice of requiring ...
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On March 25, 2009, the United States Department of Justice filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of African-American applicants to entry-level firefighter positions. The plaintiff alleged that, from 2004-2008, the City of Portsmouth fire department's practice of requiring applicants to pass an examination in order to be considered for an entry-level firefighter positions had a disparate impact on the hiring of African-Americans, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They sought injunctive relief to stop the defendant's discriminatory hiring practices, and damages for those who have been impacted by them.
Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that, since 2004, the city has administered a standardized test that applicants must pass with a minimum score of 70%, in order to be considered for hire into entry-level firefighter positions. The results of the test are then combined with scores from a personal interview to rank candidates for selection. The test passage rate of white test-takers was twice that of African Americans. The test is not essential to the job of firefighting and it prematurely eliminated 86 African Americans from the application process.
On July 23, 2009, following a hearing on the matter, the District Court (Judge Mark S. Davis) ruled that a joint settlement agreement was fair and that the court would enforce it. The agreement held that the city could not use any selection method for entry-level firefighting positions that had a disparate impact on African Americans or was not job related (preferably both). It could, however, use the 2008 test to fill essential vacancies as long as they did not do so in a way that maintained the discriminatory impact. After these essential hires the city must use a new selection method. Both of these conditions were subject to either US or court approval.
According to the settlement agreement, the city must also pay out a total of $145,000 to African-American applicants who failed the test between 2004 and 2008, but who did well on the reading comprehension part of the test. The city had to notify these former applicants and they, in turn, had to make a claim for an award out of the $145,000. Following a second fairness hearing, on April 29, 2010, the District Court (Judge Davis) set the final list of people eligible for this relief.
The city also had to make ten priority hires of African Americans who were discriminatorily eliminated from the application process, based on the list of people eligible for monetary relief. These applicants must finish all of the nondiscriminatory parts of the application to be hired, but once hired they would receive retroactive seniority regarding pay and benefits.
On January 29, 2013, the District Court (Judge Davis) terminated the consent decree because the city had implemented a nondiscriminatory hiring practice with US approval, and they had met all of their obligations to individuals by either paying them their damage award or hiring them with the full benefits of retroactive seniority.Benjamin St. Pierre - 10/29/2014