Blacks Lose Suits on Fire Exams

Dan Herbeck, Buffalo News, May 14, 2010

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U. S. District Judge John T. Curtin this week issued orders dismissing legal challenges filed by the Men of Color Helping All Society, a group of African-American Buffalo firefighters.

The society claims that the exams for fire lieutenant promotions [in the Buffalo Fire Department] in 1998 and 2002 were illegal because they had a discriminatory impact on African-Americans. Only a handful of minorities passed the tests.

Meanwhile, many white firefighters feel they were unfairly passed over for promotions because of the long legal fight over the fairness of the exams.

Curtin ruled this week that the exams were valid tests of the skills needed for a Fire Department lieutenant, and he found “insufficient” evidence to prove that the city intentionally engaged in discrimination.

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The issue has been hotly contested for 12 years. The society has the right to appeal, and the organization intends to do so, said the group’s attorney, Thomas S. Gill of Frederick, Md.

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Society members have long alleged that African-Americans seeking promotions do not receive fair treatment in the city, an allegation that the city has denied.

The issue of race in firefighter promotions was addressed by the U. S. Supreme Court in a decision that received widespread publicity last June.

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Curtin mentioned that Supreme Court decision briefly in his ruling on the 1998 exam but did not cite it as having any role in his decision. {snip}

In New Haven, officials acted out of fear that lawsuits would be filed, while in Buffalo, the Fire Department was already under a court order to refrain from discriminating by race, Perry said.

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