Jan. 16–Jacksonville and the federal government have reached a tentative settlement in a five-year-old lawsuit over whether the fire department’s promotion tests discriminate against minorities.
The two sides will work this week to create a written settlement, Senior U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger wrote Friday in a notice to the court, but there are still details to be finalized.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who had scheduled the case for a February trial, removed it from court calendars after the request by Schlesinger, who has overseen the settlement talks for years.
The U.S Justice Department concluded in 2012 that Jacksonville “had engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination” that hindered black firefighters’ advancement. Justice attorneys had narrowed the claim since then.
Corrigan ruled in 2015 that there was prima facie basis for the lawsuit, but the city could still show it wasn’t breaking employment laws if there was “a legitimate, non-discriminatory business objective” for using tests that produced racially unbalanced promotion results.
No details of the agreement were available Monday.
The suit centers on tests given between 2004 and 2011 to promote fire department employees to ranks ranging from engineer to district chief. Except for the engineer tests, the suit only involved promotions in the department’s suppression division, which combats fires.
The city has said its tests are knowledge-based and designed to choose people with skills needed for the jobs. The highest scorer is the first person promoted, and a waiting list of lower scorers is thrown out when a new test is given.
But Justice attorneys said there were “disparate impacts” depending on the races of the people tested. Among whites taking the tests, promotion rates ranged from 14 to 71 percent, depending on the test, while among blacks the rate was between zero and 25 percent, Justice attorneys previously told the court.
If the settlement is finalized, it will be the second major race-discrimination agreement in the past year the city has negotiated.
In April, Jacksonville’s City Council approved changes to the city’s hiring rules to let some firefighters be hired without having state firefighter certification, normally a prerequisite of the job.
Those hires would essentially be assigned to complete the training needed for certification, and could be fired if they failed any part of the process. The rule change had been sought by a black firefighter group that had sued to help raise the number of African-Americans hired.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263
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