‘New Haven 20′ firefighters file for promotions

The 20 New Haven firefighters who sued the city for discrimination in 2004 asked the city to promote 15 of them in a federal court filing Friday.

In the filing, the firefighters say that 15 of them should be promoted because they achieved the necessary scores on the 2003 promotional exam the city did not certify because too few minorities qualified for promotion. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the city’s decision and sent the case back to the lower federal court.

The city of New Haven made its own filing Friday that says the city should promote the firefighters who scored well in the 2003 exam, regardless of whether they were plaintiffs in the case. The city’s filing did not specify which firefighters would be promoted, but said the city should “prepare an eligible list” of firefighters to be promoted to lieutenant and captain. The New Haven Fire Department has not promoted an officer in six years because of the on-going litigation.

The New Haven 20, the one Hispanic and 19 white fighters that sued the city in 2004, has submitted a list naming the firefighters it believes should be promoted and the city has submitted the criteria that should be used to evaluate which firefighters should be promoted.

In a phone interview Sunday night, City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden said the city is currently working to determine which firefighters will be promoted based on who passed the 2003 exam, but he declined to specify how many firefighters the city will promote. He added that there should not be any conflict between whom the city and the plaintiffs want to promote.

The legal dispute between the New Haven 20 and the city started in 2004 when the city threw out the results of the promotion test because most of the high scorers were white. In defense of its decision, at the time the city said it would have been vulnerable to litigation from minority firefighters if it promoted a predominantly white group. That year, the New Haven 20 sued the city for discrimination.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the firefighters and ruled that the city had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court sent the case back to lower federal court to determine which firefighters should be promoted and what compensation they should receive because of the discrimination.

Indeed, the city now faces the very litigation it feared when it scrapped the test results in 2003. Firefighter Michael Briscoe, who is black, filed a federal lawsuit against city officials last month in which he claims that the 2003 exam discriminated against blacks and unjustly denied him promotion to lieutenant.

If Briscoe’s lawsuit proceeds, the city may not be able to certify the results of the 2003 test nor promote its officers. Yale Law Professor Drew Days said all parties involved in the various suits are “pretty much in limbo.”

“These two suits seem to be on a collision course,” he said.

On Nov. 2, the city filed a motion to prevent Briscoe’s lawsuit from proceeding.

“Proceeding at this time will not benefit the plaintiff in any way,” the motion reads. “However, it will waste judicial resources and possibly result in inconsistent and conflicting rulings, thus causing detriment to the defendant, this Court, nonparties and the public.”

In the lawsuit, Briscoe’s lawyer, David Rosen, wrote that the 2003 test discriminated against his client and that because of the discrimination City Hall officials should promote Briscoe to the rank of lieutenant and award him the six years of missed seniority and back pay.

Currently, the two sides have yet to agree on what damages the city must award the firefighters and a jury trial is expected to determine the amount.

Comments

  • Recent Alum

    The key question is, will these men be compensated for (i) their legal fees and (ii) their lost earnings over the past 6 years? If they had been promoted in 2003 as they deserved, they presumably would have received a raise. With interest, this should be a nice chunk of money.