Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lawsuit: White Firefighters Saw Exams; Blacks in Department Sue City, Union despite Ongoing Mediation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lawsuit: White Firefighters Saw Exams; Blacks in Department Sue City, Union despite Ongoing Mediation

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Pinkham

Two dozen Jacksonville firefighters have sued the city and the fire union, claiming the city's promotional process discriminates against minority firefighters.

Among their allegations: that union officials collected and shared promotional exam questions with white firefighters but not black firefighters, corrupting the promotional exam's supposed secrecy.

The lawsuit comes as the black firefighters, city and union are two years into court mediation designed to forge a resolution to decades of racial issues in the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

City and union officials said Wednesday afternoon they hadn't been served with the lawsuit and couldn't comment on it or how it might affect mediation. Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said he was surprised by the lawsuit and vehemently denied the allegations.

City General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said discussing the lawsuit while mediation is ongoing would violate the terms of the talks because they aren't at impasse. A mediation session is scheduled Friday before Senior U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger, who has been overseeing the negotiations.

Attorney Dennis Thompson, representing the black firefighters, said he remained optimistic about mediation. His lawsuit says negotiations resulted in a resolution of hiring issues raised in the 1971 case, but issues like harassment and promotion are unresolved.

"This was done because it needed to be done," Thompson said. "We had no active litigation regarding promotions."

The lawsuit accuses the city of holding exams under its collective bargaining agreement with the union while the mediation is ongoing, despite flaws such as improper administration, an invalid testing process and a historically adverse impact on African-American candidates.

The exams mean resulting promotion lists for engineer and lieutenant will be in place for two years at a time when nearly three-fourths of the department's ranking black officers are eligible for retirement, the lawsuit says. That will further reduce opportunities for minorities to hold ranking positions, it says. …

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