Monday, April 13, 2009

A Remedy Gone Too Far? White Firefighter Sues City for Discrimination

Fire departments in larger urban America cities boast a strong and proud tradition of cultural ties to the Irish-American community in deference to the many Irish-Americans who have served and given their lives as community firefighters over the decades.

The jobs firefighters do and the risks they take forges a unique bond among it's ranks that transcends the "job" itself. As such, the social life of the firefighter is critical to success in his or her profession.

There are fraternal social organizations, such as the "Emerald Societies" where unofficial professional interaction takes place. Where a firefighter might make valuable social contacts that might offer an advantage when positions open up or in terms of assignment to choice firehouses or units; or learning knowledge about firefighting first hand from veterans and other experienced professionals.

But as the ranks of firefighters in the US becomes more diverse however, increasingly the question about what role background and race play in the promotion of officers has attracted more and more media attention.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, on Wednesday April 22nd the Supreme Court will rule on a discrimination suit brought by New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci.

The 11-year veteran claims he was denied a promotion he earned after he came in 6th in a promotional exam administered to potential officers. The problem: the test was thrown out after 19 other New Haven African-American firefighters failed the test.

Ricci claims he was discriminated against by the city of New Haven because of his skin color and the case is attracting nation-wide media attention.

The case has pitted members of the black firefighters organization against Ricci and 17 other co-defendants (including one Hispanic) who argue that their performance and the merits of their test scores outweigh mandates to promote a proportionate share of officers from the ranks that reflects the makeup of both the fire department and the community itself.

Others from the the city contend the test itself cannot be the sole factor in deciding the qualifications for promotions within the New Haven fire department.

Have remedies intended to reverse racial discrimination gone too far?

Time will tell, but this will be the first time in decades that the Supreme Court has ruled in a case deciding the merits of race-based mandated promotions in the workplace adhere to the intent of the Constitution.

The question still remains, is an African-American or Hispanic-American firefighter at an inherent disadvantage for promotion because he or she might be excluded from social organizations like the Emerald Society?

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