EEOC: Austin fire dept. discriminated when hiring
AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Fire Department discriminated against some minority job applicants, a federal review has found.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which looked at the department's hiring practices since 2012, notified city officials in a letter received Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/1bqW7fb ).
City officials learned of the review in April and said they welcomed the objective oversight.
The EEOC found that some black applicants were discriminated against because of their race and some Hispanics faced discrimination due to their national origins.
"The letter does not say that the city intended to discriminate against any individual or group, but rather that the difference in pass rates between African-Americans and whites was the unintended effect of a neutral testing process," the city contends in a news release.
Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said in a memo Tuesday to department personnel that the city will not debate the decision. The city has decided not to hire additional personnel from the 2012 candidate list as a result of the EEOC determination, according to Kerr. So far, 96 firefighters from the list have been hired.
The Justice Department did not detail what prompted the investigation that led to the EEOC finding that nearly 40 percent of black candidates passed the cognitive written exam to become a cadet, compared with 68 percent of nonblack candidates.
A shocking differential in pass rates never seen before in the history of the world.
One black candidate was hired from the approximately 736 black applicants, according to the federal review.
Kerr, in her memo, said that 636 black candidates completed applications in 2012, not the 736 stated in the EEOC letter, and that only 328 of those candidates actually took the test. Three of those candidates were placed on the hiring list, she said.
Not many details seem to be available on either the EEOC letter or today's Justice Dept. letter announcing a federal lawsuit against the Austin Fire Department. Presumably, they are hiring from the top down among applicants. So, while lots of blacks "passed" the test, few scored at the top.
Firemen these days tend to be overpaid and underworked, so the quantity and quality of applicants is high. At least as of 2008, Austin paid firemen 20% more then other big cities in Texas, so being a fireman in Austin is a pretty sweet gig. So top-down hiring won't come up with many blacks.
I found this 2008 editorial in the Austin Statesman saying:
The department is facing a significant drain of its minority firefighters who are eligible for retirement, and it should be pushing for greater diversity to replenish those ranks.
In other words, the Austin FD had become substantially integrated following a court order 36 years ago.
It's interesting (to me, not necessarily to anybody else) how the concept of disparate impact just doesn't seem to apply to in some industries (e.g., movie and TV film crews) while being a near-obsessive concern to the feds in other occupations, such as firefighting. Hollywood tends to have nepotistic or who-you-know hiring, while fire departments generally use objective tests designed by testing/diversity consultants to wring out all bias.
It would probably make the most sense to hire objectively, while just having a quota for African-Americans. But, how does that work as 50 million legally privileged Hispanics turn into 100 million?