Federal Judge Approves Austin Fire Department Settlement in Hiring Discrimination Case

A federal judge has approved a settlement between the city of Austin and the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations the Austin Fire Department’s hiring practices were discriminatory, reports The Associated Press.

The order signed by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel on Friday allows the Fire Department to resume hiring cadets, a process the city suspended while the federal government investigated whether the department discriminated against African-American and Latino candidates in 2012 and 2013, the Austin American-Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/1xtA52Y ).

The Justice Department argued that a written test disproportionately eliminated African-American and Hispanic candidates without the Fire Department proving that the scoring method properly measured would-be cadets, the newspaper reported.

The Fire Department amended its hiring process in 2013, but the Justice Department said it still discriminated.

As part of the settlement, 30 positions in future cadet academies are reserved for Latinos and African-Americans and up to $780,000 will be awarded to unsuccessful Latino and African-American candidates eligible for backpay.

A lawyer for the Austin Firefighters Association argued during a hearing Oct. 29 before Yeakel that the consent decree was overly broad because the union does not believe the city violated federal law.

The union’s president, Bob Nicks, had proposed hiring 30 Latino and African-American candidates who were unsuccessful in the 2012 hiring process rather than settle with the Justice Department.

The city also denied violating federal law, but said in the decree that it wanted to settle the allegations to avoid “the burdens of protracted litigation.”

“This ruling allows us to move forward with our 2013 hiring process, and also with our future recruiting and hiring program,” Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said in a statement Friday.

Hiring at the Austin Fire Department will remain subject to Justice Department oversight for up to eight years.

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