Austin Settles Firefighter Bias Lawsuit


AUSTIN (CN) - Austin will pay $780,000 in back pay as part of a settlement of the federal government's claims that its entry-level exams for firefighters discriminate against black and Hispanic applicants.
     The United States sued the city on Monday under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
     Uncle Sam claims that in 2012 the city used two written exams for firefighter applicants: one exam that measures cognitive ability and behavioral traits (NFSI) and an exam that measures counterproductive work behaviors, known as an "integrity inventory" test.
     "Applicants who did not achieve a raw score of 70 on the NFSI were eliminated from consideration to be an Austin entry-level firefighter," the complaint states. "This resulted in a statistically significant disparity between the pass rates of African-American candidates and white candidates equal to 9.10 units of standard deviation, and a statistically significant disparity between the pass rates of Hispanic candidates and white candidates equal to 7.77 units of standard deviation."
     Prosecutors say the city invited back the 1,500 highest NFSI test takers in 2012 who also passed the integrity inventory test for the second round of interviews, effectively making the cutoff score 75.06. That year 2,600 applicants took the exams.
     "As a result, many candidates who achieved a raw score of 70 on the NFSI and passed the integrity inventory were nevertheless eliminated from the selection process," the complaint states.
     Austin cannot show that its use of the NFSI as a "pass/fail" device "is job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity," the complaint states.
     Prosecutors say that in 2013, the city invited all entry-level firefighters who took a new written test (NELF) back for the second round. They say the city later decided it would not score responses to "behavioral trait" questions on the NELF and placed the applicants in descending rank order based on total scores, processing applicants in descending order.
     The federal government contends the changes still result in "statistical significant adverse impact" on black and Hispanic applications.
     Under the settlement, Austin will create new firefighter entrance exams that are not discriminatory; the city denies it violated Title VII.
     The city also agreed to pay $780,000 in back pay to applicants who were harmed by the 2012 hiring practice, according to a consent decree also filed Monday.
     "African-American and Hispanic applicants determined to be eligible for relief under the decree will be eligible for one of 30 priority appointments to an entry-level firefighter position with the AFD," prosecutors said in a statement Monday. "All applicants must pass the new, lawful selection procedure and other lawful selection procedures in order to be considered for priority hire relief. African-American and Hispanic applicants who are offered priority hire relief are also eligible for retroactive seniority."
     Austin officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.