Hispanic Organization Backs New Haven’s White Firefighters

Rene Cordova One of the more controversial court cases adjudicated by Supreme Court Judicial Nominee Sonia Sotomayor was Ricci v. DeStefano. In this case, the city of New Haven tossed the results of a promotional firefighting exam in order to avoid a potential lawsuit by black firefighters on the basis of “disparate impact.” Simply put, disparate impact is a legal term that applies to certain hiring practices that are perceived to impact one minority group more adversely than others. If it can be shown that a hiring requirement has substantially and adversely impacted one minority group, then the burden of proof must shift to the employer in order to demonstrate the relevance and necessity of those requirements.

In November and December of 2003, the New Haven Fire Department issued a promotional exam to determine candidacy for fifteen job vacancies. When news surfaced that no blacks and only one Latino qualified for an immediate promotion (must be among the top 15 scorers), the Civil Service Commission held hearings to determine if black firefighters had a viable court case against the city. After the Civil Service Commission failed to certify the promotional test, the exam was nullified. New Haven’s ineptitude to follow its own charter, specifying that promotions must be given to candidates that achieved the top three highest test scores, prompted 20 white firefighters to file a reverse discrimination law suit against the city.

Interestingly, New Haven’s Chief Administrative Officer appears to have stirred the pot. Karen Dubois-Walton called a meeting with two minority firefighting groups – the New Haven Firebirds (black firefighters) and the New Haven Hispanic Firefighters Association. She commenced the meeting by saying,

“There is a problem. If we promote, it’s not going to be fair because not enough minorities would be hired.”
Rene Cordova, president of the Latino organization, characterized the meeting as the first step in the campaign to oppose the promotional exam. It would appear, therefore, that New Haven officials went to lengths to cue minority groups that they have been negatively impacted by the unfairness of the promotional exam. What a remarkable display of politicking.

Cordova didn’t take the bait, however. And the Hispanic Firefighters Association refused to support the local NAACP and the New Haven Firebirds in their opposition to the promotional exam. Of course, this caused a rift between the two groups that saw reality a little differently. Even though only one Latino out of twenty-three was eligible for promotion, Hispanic firefighters of New Haven believed the test results boiled down to personal study habits, not skin color. Those who did well on the exam coincidentally studied harder. In a bit of irony, the threat of a discrimination lawsuit by black firefighters may very well reverse the trend of using racial quotas as a determinant in hiring practices if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the New Haven 20.

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