The Department of Justice announced today that it has entered into and filed a consent decree that, if approved by the court, will resolve the department’s allegations that the city of Austin violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against African-American and Hispanic applicants for entry-level firefighter positions at the Austin Fire Department (AFD).
Title VII’s prohibitions of discrimination in employment forbid not only intentional discrimination, but also the use of employment practices, such as written tests, that result in disparate impact against any group based on the race, color, sex, national origin or religion of that group’s members, unless an employer can prove that such practices are job related and consistent with business necessity. Absent such proof, those practices do not identify the best qualified candidates and violate the law. The complaint, filed along with the consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin, alleges that in 2012, the city used a written test that disproportionately eliminated African-Americans and Hispanics from the hiring process, and that Austin cannot demonstrate that its use of the test was job related and consistent with business necessity. Similarly, the complaint alleges that Austin’s method of weighting the 2012 assessments and processing candidates in descending rank order by composite score had an adverse impact on individuals in these protected groups who passed the written test, and that this practice was also not job related or consistent with business necessity. The United States has challenged the hiring process Austin planned to use for these positions in 2013 as well.
The Justice Department, along with the city of Austin, filed a joint motion today requesting that the court provisionally approve the consent decree executed by the parties and schedule an initial fairness hearing regarding the terms of the consent decree.
The consent decree requires that Austin no longer use the selection practices challenged by the United States in screening and selecting candidates for the AFD’s entry-level firefighter positions. The decree requires that Austin develop a new, lawful selection procedure that complies with Title VII, and also requires that the city pay $780,000 in back pay to entry-level firefighter applicants who were harmed by the 2012 hiring practice challenged by the United States and who are determined to be eligible for relief. Additionally, African-American and Hispanic applicants determined to be eligible for relief under the decree will be eligible for one of 30 priority appointments to an entry-level firefighter position with the AFD. All applicants must pass the new, lawful selection procedure and other lawful selection procedures in order to be considered for priority hire relief. African-American and Hispanic applicants who are offered priority hire relief are also eligible for retroactive seniority.
“The Department of Justice will not permit employers to use screening and selection devices that adversely affect any protected group unless those devices are shown to properly distinguish between qualified and unqualified applicants,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “The department commends Austin for its efforts to address these issues and to ensure that effective, Title VII-compliant selection practices are put into place.”
The department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each investigated the AFD’s hiring practices. Today’s proposed resolution was made possible in part through collaboration between the department and the San Antonio Field Office of the EEOC.
More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Department of Justice website.