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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

S.F. Firefighters Win $3.7M in Age Bias Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A group of firefighters who proved that the San Francisco Fire Department discriminated against them on the basis of age deserve $3.7 million in damages, a jury ruled.

Murlene Randle, a lawyer for the firefighters, called the 9-3 verdict "sweet vindication." Randle had argued that the San Francisco Fire Department rigged a 2008 exam to favor younger applicants for promotion to lieutenant.

The firefighters first sued in 2010, claiming the exam was scored in a way that discriminated against test-takers over 40 years old.

They claimed that such tests had always been given orally and that the written format was sprung on the candidates just months before the test was given. This put older candidates at a disadvantage, the suit said, since they had taken oral exams their whole careers, while younger firefighters had been trained using written materials.

The verdict, which came out earlier this week, awarded the 15 plaintiffs, all over the age of 40, back pay to the date of the exam, a percentage of their future pay claims, and $108,000 each for emotional distress, Randle said.

Asked about the verdict, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney's office did not have any comment. The spokesman Gabriel Zitrin said only that "we were honestly disappointed and we are evaluating our legal options."

The case may return to San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo's courtroom next year.

Still unresolved is the firefighters' demand for an opportunity to take a redesigned exam, or be promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

Attorney Randle said she was "proud of the jurors who stood up for justice," and that "the verdict shows that there are horrible problems with the examination unit."

"But there's still something missing," she said. "If we get the fire department to change its practices, that would be the change for the future that would have a resounding effect, and one of the things we strongly want is transparency."

A jury cannot grant such relief, she said, so a post-verdict hearing is already scheduled for March 2014.

Randle said she will ask for a court order that requires the fire department to keep all exam records and give candidates more details about their test results than just their score.

In this case, the fire department destroyed the plaintiffs' test results before trial.

"In the future we'd like them to keep the documents," she said.

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