EEOC: City Violates Civil Rights; Agency: Black Firefighters Face Departmental Discrimination

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Employment practices at Jacksonville's Fire and Rescue Department are discriminatory, retaliatory and hostile to African-Americans, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined.

The agency's Miami office found during an 11-month investigation that the department discriminates in hiring, promotions, job assignments and discipline, and that black firefighters who complain are subject to retaliation and a hostile work environment.

Evidence obtained in the investigation establishes a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Miami District Director Jacqueline McNair wrote.

The findings, which could be forwarded to the U.S. Justice Department, came in letters of determination issued June 5 by the commission and obtained Thursday by the Times-Union. The letters followed an investigation of discrimination charges filed with the commission in July by the NAACP and the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters.

The city opposes the findings.

"We provided them information that we think shows there's no basis for these types of letters of determination," Assistant General Counsel Mary Jarrett said.

It's unclear how the determination will affect a federal judge's attempts to forge a settlement of racial litigation involving the fire department, including a 1971 civil rights lawsuit recently resurrected by the Brotherhood.

But the lawyer representing the Brotherhood and the NAACP said her clients prefer a settlement guaranteeing a workplace free of retaliation and discrimination.

"Their motivation is to fix what we consider to be a pretty broken situation," attorney Kirsten Doolittle said.

Doolittle, who practices employment and labor law, said she typically doesn't see EEOC letters as strongly worded.

Her clients' July 28 complaint to the commission cites specific instances of nooses found in black firefighters' lockers and a white engineer refusing a direct order from a black chief. The 2006 noose incident prompted a report by the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which the EEOC cites in its determination.

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters Local 122, said reliance on the Human Rights Commission report is troubling because of the limited number of interviews on which it was based. …