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Texas: Austin Settles Charges of Discriminatory Firefighter Hiring Practices

By Susan R. Heylman  7/7/2014
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The city of Austin agreed to a consent decree to resolve charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that the city’s hiring practices for entry-level firefighter positions resulted in adverse impacts for black and Hispanic applicants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

DOJ’s complaint alleged that, in 2012, the city used a written test that disproportionately eliminated blacks and Hispanics from the hiring process, and that Austin could not demonstrate that its use of the test was job-related and consistent with business necessity. Similarly, the department alleged that Austin’s method of weighting the 2012 assessments and processing candidates in descending rank order by composite score had an adverse impact on individuals in these protected groups who passed the written test, and that this practice was not job-related or consistent with business necessity. DOJ also challenged the hiring process Austin planned to use for these positions in 2013 as well.

Under the consent agreement, filed with the federal district court in Austin, the city is required to stop using those selection practices in screening and selecting candidates for the Austin Fire Department (AFD) entry-level firefighter positions.  The city must develop a new selection procedure and will pay $780,000 in back pay to entry level firefighter applicants who were harmed by the hiring practice in 2012.  

Additionally, black and Hispanic applicants determined to be eligible for relief under the decree will be eligible for one of 30 priority appointments to an entry-level firefighter position with the AFD. All applicants must pass the new, lawful selection procedure and other lawful selection procedures in order to be considered for priority hire relief. Black and Hispanic applicants who are offered priority hire relief are also eligible for retroactive seniority.

“The Department of Justice will not permit employers to use screening and selection devices that adversely affect any protected group unless those devices are shown to properly distinguish between qualified and unqualified applicants,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting assistant attorney general for DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

DOJ and the city filed a joint motion requesting preliminary approval of the consent decree in United States v. Austin, W.D. Texas, No. 1:14-cv-00533, on June 9, 2014. The motion requested that an initial fairness hearing regarding the terms of the consent decree be scheduled in 100 days.

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.
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