Firefighter Ruling Sets Stage for Damages

Matt Gryta, Buffalo News, October 29, 2010

Thirteen white firefighters were treated unfairly when the City of Buffalo voided the promotional tests they passed because minorities did poorly on the exams, State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ruled Friday.

His decision sets the stage for a future decision on financial damages and promotions for the firefighters, should an appeal be rejected.

The judge noted that the city has contended in a federal court case that all promotional tests are racially neutral and job-oriented. But in the state court case brought by the white firefighters, the city argued that the tests administered in 2005 and 2006 should be voided because of racial problems.

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In ruling against the city, Michalek cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2009 ruling that officials in New Haven, Conn., illegally tossed out fire department promotional tests because no African-Americans and only two Hispanics scored high enough to receive promotions.

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Michalek also cited the testimony of former City Human Resources Commissioner Leonard Matarese, who said that he let the 2005 and 2006 promotional lists affecting the 13 white firefighters expire because of “the fear of future litigation” by MOCHA about those lists.

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