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High Court sets minority advancement rights on fire30 Jun 2009 08:50 am

firefighter.jpgMany corporations, municipalities, and nonprofits across the country have programs and procedures to help advance women and minorities into leadership roles.

Why? There are still few of them represented in the nation’s corner offices.

Today, all those advancement initiatives are in legal limbo.

The Supreme Court decided yesterday that a group of New Haven, CT, white firefighters, and one Hispanic firefighter, were discriminated against when a promotions test they took and passed was scrapped by city officials because no African American firefighters passed the exam.

The white firefighters claimed they studied hard, did well on the test, and should be granted promotions. City of New Haven officials felt the disparity in results would lead to lawsuits against the city by minority firefighters.

The fear of a lawsuit was justified to a degree. In many cases, organizations have thrown out such tests if they saw a disproportionate number of minorities not doing well because suits brought in this regard often favored the group that alleged it was adversely impacted.

At the heart of the ruling is one huge, pressing, forever gnawing question on equality in the workplace — can you discriminate against one group to help another group that has been universally discriminated against for so long they are still not finding a level playing field?

Here the Supreme Court, in its 5 to 4 ruling, said “no.”

“This is one more decision defining the parameters of reverse discrimination, in essence saying that the discarding of test results not only helps those not passing and promoted, but hurts those who passed and are scheduled for promotion. In other words, discrimination has two sides,” says Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations in the Graduate School of Management at Clark University in Worcester, MA.

He believes the decision with make employers more cautious when establishing such tests because if the results are not acceptable they won’t just be able to throw them out.

“The irony here,” he adds, “is that testing is used in civil service positions such as police officers and firefighters as an element in the promotion decision to avoid arbitrariness and favoritism that was so rampant for many years, and in New Haven the test had been thrown out because of its impact.”

Clearly the white firefighters believe they were discriminated against. And clearly, this test will lead to few, if any, minorities firefighters being promoted in New Haven.

Discrimination at fire departments across the country seems to have been rampant given the many lawsuits that have been filed by minorities.

These tests have come under fire not only in New Haven.

The problem has surfaced in the Houston fire department. This from Aframnews.com:

Seven Black firefighters are suing the city. They claim the written multiple-choice test, which accounts for 100 of an officer’s 122 promotion points, represents “systemic discrimination” against African-Americans. They contend that “Selection rates for African-Americans are abysmally smaller than for White candidates.”

Did the white firefighters just want it more? That has been the argument.

But the bottom line is, minorities continue to be underrepresented in the top seats. Why?

This is indeed the key question of our time. Any answers?

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