Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Settles with 3 Firefighters Blacks Claimed Discrimination

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Settles with 3 Firefighters Blacks Claimed Discrimination

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson and Paul Pinkham, Times-Union staff writers

Saying they would have lost in court, Jacksonville officials have agreed to promote three black firefighters to end a lawsuit over discrimination in fire department promotions.

"Bad facts make bad law . . . and we've got bad facts," Mayor John Delaney said yesterday. "We were going to lose."

The settlement allows the three plaintiffs, all lieutenants, to become captains ahead of colleagues who scored higher on a promotional exam. The three -- Glenda Hopkins and Philip Hopkins, who are married, and Willie Jones -- will receive no back pay or lawyer fees. A fourth plaintiff has retired since the original complaint was filed six years ago.

The suit is one in a series that have challenged the fire department's advancement system for decades, particularly within the combat division, the department's largest arm.

Civil service testing has shaped firefighters' careers for decades, and the decision to bypass the usual rules inspired instant controversy in the department.

"Why don't we just put everybody's name on a Lotto ball and spit them out that way?" said Battalion Chief Richard Barrett, a 29-year veteran.

Barrett said he didn't know whether the new captains were qualified or not, because they were advancing through appointment. He said department promotions affect public safety, and that race shouldn't be a factor.

The local firefighters union is a co-defendant in the suit and is considering steps to challenge the settlement, said Larry Osborne, the union business agent.

Individual firefighters may also sue after the current promotion waiting list, which is updated every two years, expires this winter. Osborne said the three firefighters who end up at the top of the waiting list could argue City Hall's decision cost them promotions they earned. …

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