African Americans Accuse Lynn, Mass., Fire Department of Discrimination

Article excerpt

In 2005, four African American men in Lynn, Mass., sued the city and state for discrimination after being declined employment. The men had taken written exams between 2002 and 2004 for entry-level positions with the Lynn Fire Department, but were told they were not hired because of low test scores. The NAACP New England Area Conference, along with the Boston Society of Vulcans, a minority firefighter association, intervened in the case.

Last August, a federal judge ruled that the civil service examination that several cities in Massachusetts used to hire firefighters violated Black and Hispanic applicants' civil rights.

The exam, administered by the human resources department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, used cognitive ability scores as the primary criteria to determine whether an applicant was a prime firefighter candidate. Once tallied, scores were ranked in order - with 100 being the highest and 70 being the lowest passing grade. Applicants with the top scores were called for a physical examination.

In her 68-page decision, U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris wrote that the cognitive exams "do not predict how quickly a firefighter can climb stairs with equipment or raise a ladder" and should not be the decisive factor when evaluating the potential job performances of candidates.

Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference, agreed with the judge's decision, saying the exams were not fairly "designed to assess the skills and requirements of a firefighter" and were "skewed culturally to Whites."

Judge Saris also noted that a 1974 decree, which required the state to create a more equitable exam and achieve racial parity among its firefighters and residential population, had not been met. …