Deal Final in Houston Fire Department Bias Suit


     HOUSTON (CN) – A firefighters union cannot upend Houston’s settlement with black firefighters who complained of racially biased promotion exams, a federal judge ruled.
     Seven black firefighters sued Houston in 2008, alleging that the promotion exams for the captain and senior-captain positions were discriminatory.
     The city and the seven firefighters ultimately reached a partial settlement, which U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal approved in February 2012.
     The settlement required changing the three testing components for the captain and senior captain to include a situational judgment test, a job knowledge test and an assessment center.
     It also granted Houston the possibility of using computers for the situational judgment exam, and to develop the exams with the psychology-testing consultants of its choice.
     In approving the deal, Rosenthal sidelined the objections of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, which had intervened in the case to challenge the new promotion exams as inconsistent with Texas law and its union contract.
     An eighth firefighter, Ramon Campbell, joined as a plaintiff in May 2012.
     Campbell passed the fall 2010 HFD captain exam and was ranked 63 on the department’s preliminary rank order promotion list.
     His rank fell to 92, however, after the scores were certified.
     Firefighters holding the top 71 positions were promoted before the list expired, leaving Campbell out of a promotion.
     Campbell alleged discrimination, unlawful disparate impact, and a lack of due process.
     The city and Campbell settled in December 2012 with Houston agreeing to promote 29 additional firefighters to captain, bringing the total number to 100, after administration of the next senior captain promotion exam.
     Campbell will be promoted because he ranked in the top 100. He will also get back pay and pension contributions as if his promotion had been effective during the previous round of promotions.
     Around that time, the city and plaintiffs proposed a new final judgment that would cover all the plaintiffs’ claims, including those of Campbell.
     The firefighters’ union again objected, however, claiming that Campbell could not prove the test certification process was discriminatory.
     The union also argued its role in resolving employee grievances over compensation, hours and testing gave it an interest in Campbell’s settlement.
     Rosenthal denied the union’s objections Thursday in an order and final judgment.
     “The HPFFA has not provided the court with citations to any cases showing that it has a right to object to a settlement agreement that, like this one, provides limited monetary relief to an individual litigant,” she wrote.
     Rosenthal had granted partial final judgment in January 2013.

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