Minority Firefighters Being Attacked by Lawsuit

by March 26, 2009

discrimination firefightersJacksonville, Fla. – The International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF) has taken issue with a lawsuit currently pending in the United States Supreme Court, Ricci vs. De Stefano, and will be filing an amicus brief, joined by several other prominent organizations and individuals, representing minority firefighters being attacked by the suit. 
At the core of this issue is keeping our firefighting forces diverse in the interests of National Security.  The IABPFF position is clear: keep Title VII and Constitutional Protections alive for professional black firefighters/ first responders – not merely for the interests of Caucasians, who have dominated the fire testing process for years.

The discrimination lawsuit was brought by 19 white firefighters and 1 Hispanic (known as the” New Haven 20”). The firefighters allege that they were discriminated against in denial of promotion, and complained that the City violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution by creating “racial categories” favoring African-Americans on two promotional examinations. (Fire Lieutenant and Captain). The city had chosen (after holding four civil service public hearings) not to certify both exams because the results were slanted highly in favor of promotion of whites and the city believed any promotions would violate Title VII’s prohibition against disparate impact discrimination. The outcome of the lower court decision is as follows: Both lower courts sided with the city and found there was no discrimination, however, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, likely for the purpose of making a sweeping pronouncement.

There are key issues that are at stake. First, the Supreme Court ruling could potentially turn back the clock on civil rights, decreasing minority integration around 40 years. Ricci vs. DeStefano, contains the issue of diversity, brought by the lawsuit challenging the fairness of standardized test results, concerning promotions of firefighters in New Haven, CT. This case could possibly have a strong debilitating impact on municipal fire testing and the limits of city control over examinations. In addition, the possible shoring up discrimination suits, using Title VII and the Fourteenth Amendment to further the interests of white firefighters at the expense of minorities and women.  It is important to bear in mind that protecting diversity in municipal firefighting forces is truly a matter of National Security and compelling state interest.  

The white firefighters want the Court to hold that any race-based remedies for African-American workers, particularly fire and police, are swept out of existence.  This includes settlements, consent decrees, and possibly entire right of action under Title VII or the U.S. Constitution.  Because of the increasing influx of discrimination complaints and expiration of many hiring and promotional consent decrees, fewer African-Americans are represented in city fire departments around the country, particularly at the command level.  

Moreover, many of those at command level – who fought so hard to get there – will soon be retiring, restoring fire department composition to largely Caucasian. This depletion in the number of diverse first responders (approximately 70%) is clearly not in the best interest of American security; this is borne out by the U.S. military’s heavy reliance on diversity at both lower and command ranks.  As paramilitary organizations, similarly structured, municipal fire and rescue departments are truly first responders in national emergencies.

The position of the IABPFF is stated simply by Donald Day, Past Director of IABPFF/NER: “The Supreme Court hearing his case is the greatest threat to the future blacks in the Fire Service and is the greatest challenge blacks have ever faced in the Fire Service. Should and if the high court reverse the decision, it will have monumental effect on blacks being fire fighters and blacks being officers in their respective cities. Should and if this is allowed to happen, then cities across the country will not have to justify whether a test is valid, discriminatory or whether it has a disparate or adverse impact on blacks as firefighters and first responders.”

The focus of  IABPFF is to protect the Title VII and Constitutional rights of all firefighters and officers, especially those of blacks, other minorities, and women, who have historically been shut out of firefighting command positions. It also impacts the integrity of municipal fire testing itself.  This is not a ” touchy-feely diversity issue.” Black Firefighters are Emergency First Responders, and keeping diversity in all ranks is a compelling state interest to our National Security.
DATE:        Wednesday March 25, 2009
TIME:        3:30 p.m.
PLACE:       NAACP Headquarters, 545 Whalley Ave , New Haven , CT. , (203)868-1578 or (203)389-7275
RALLY:    Knickerbocker Golf Club, 715 Sherman Parkway
Following Press Conference
Joseph Muhammad, International President IABPFF
Gary Tinney, New Haven Firebird Society IABPFF
Del Cowards, NE Regional Director IABPFF
Denny Thompson Esq., Attorney IABPFF National  Speaker

The purpose of this press conference is to announce the national public awareness initiative launched by the IABPFF regarding Ricci v. DeStephano which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. We will also announce the organizations that have filed an Amicus Brief, on our behalf. The petitioners in Ricci are attempting to undermine the effectiveness and strength of the fire service by ignoring the essential need for diversity in the fire service.  •

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