After seven years of litigation, Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration finalized a settlement agreement to pay over $2 million to the 20 firefighters behind the bias suit that brought New Haven to the forefront of a national discussion on racial discrimination.
Twenty firefighters, 19 of whom are Caucasian and one is Hispanic, filed a lawsuit alleging reverse racial discrimination when passing grades in a New Haven Fire Department test for promotion were thrown out. Although both the U.S. District Court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New Haven’s decision to throwout the test results, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the firefighters in 2009.
New Haven will pay the firefighters a combined total of $2 million over the next two years and each complainant’s pension plan will be treated as if he had been on the service for an extra three years, according to a Wednesday press release from City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph. The plaintiffs’ teams of attorneys, who took the litigation from District Court to the Supreme Court, will receive $3 million, according to the release. These payments, which were individually agreed upon by each of the complainants, mark the end to a long saga of public relations woes for the DeStefano administration — not only was the city faulted for discriminating against the mostly Caucasian firefighters who were not promoted in rank after their test scores were invalidated, but some have cited the prolonged legal battle as fiscally detrimental to a city struggling economically.
These payments constitute a complete admission of guilt for City Hall, as there will be no further attempt to prevent damage payments. This follows a June 29, 2009 Supreme Court decision in which a narrow five to four margin found that the City had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“In addition to recognizing that this resolution allows the City to move forward, I want to acknowledge the work of the New Haven firefighters who never allowed this debate to affect their performance on the fire grounds, or, with one another,” the mayor said in Wednesday’s press release. “Their service to the people of New Haven and to their units has been and remains, exemplary.”
The roots of the lawsuit begin in late 2003 when City Hall decided not to certify promotional examinations for the ranks of Captain and Lieutenant. An outside consultant administered the test, and the results showed that only two of 50 minority candidates would be eligible for promotion — none of whom were African-American. Reportedly worried that these results would leave the city open to Title VII anti-discrimination suits from African-American firefighters, the New Haven Civil Service Board suggested discounting the test results.
After the Supreme Court made its ruling, New Haven certified the results of the original test and promoted 14 of the plaintiffs.
Although the total plaintiff settlements add up to $2 million dollars, individuals received varied sums. The New Haven Independent reported that Frank Ricci, the face of the firefighter’s case, was given $125,518.99, while the current NHFD union head, James Kottage picked up only $27,266.85.