Court Approves Partial Deal in Firefighter Case


     HOUSTON (CN) – A federal judge has approved part of a settlement between seven African-American firefighters and the City of Houston following a suit claiming exams used to make promotions within the Houston Fire Department disparately impact black firefighters in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.



     Mediation between the city and the seven firefighters in February and March of 2010 produced a settlement that included a proposed consent decree that would require the city to implement changes to the captain and senior-captain exams.
     The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association objected, however, claiming the changes were not consistent with Texas Local Government Code (TLGC) or the union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
     U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal concluded that the HPFFA “vigorously objects that the proposed changes involve ‘a far-reaching and wholesale restructuring of the entire promotional process that goes beyond anything plaintiffs have even alleged in this lawsuit’ and ‘bypass both the long-established protections of state law and the union’s protected role in being the sole, collective voice for the city’s firefighters.”
     Based on the “evidence and applicable law,” the city and firefighters succeeded in showing that current promotional exams do violate Title VII, but that some changes also violate the union’s CBA, as well as state code, according to the ruling.
     “The use of situational-judgment questions and an assessment center are justified by the record evidence and are job-related and consistent with “business necessity,” said Rosenthal, citing a term used to describe a challenged practice, such as promotional testing, as job-related and which demonstrates a “manifest relationship between test and job.”
     Rosenthal added, however, that the “city and the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the wholesale abandonment of promotion based on superior performance on other components of competitive exams is needed either to reduce disparate impact or to validate the promotional processes.”
     She wrote that “the proper method for scoring the examination should be accomplished by collective bargaining and after the completion of the job analysis for the senior-captain position. This is consistent both with best methods for test development and with the principles embodied in Title VII – which favors voluntary compliance – and the TLGC, CBA and Fifth Circuit precedent.”A hearing is set for February 21 to address remaining issues and to set a timetable for doing so.

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