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Press Release

Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against the City of Portsmouth, Virginia, Alleging Discrimination Against African Americans in the Hiring of Firefighters

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it has entered into a consent decree with the City of Portsmouth, Va., that, if approved by the court, will resolve the Department’s complaint that the City of Portsmouth engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against African Americans in its hiring of entry-level firefighters, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

The consent decree requires that Portsmouth no longer administer the written examination challenged by the United States, and that it implement new selection procedures for entry-level firefighters that comply with Title VII. Additionally, the consent decree requires the city to deposit $145,000 into a settlement fund that will be used to make awards of back pay to African Americans who were harmed by Portsmouth’s use of the written examination and who are determined to be eligible for relief. African American applicants determined to be eligible for relief under the consent decree may receive a priority offer of employment from Portsmouth, with retroactive seniority for all purposes except for time-in-grade required for promotion. The consent decree requires Portsmouth to hire up to 10 eligible African American claimants as firefighters. Under the consent decree, Portsmouth maintains the opportunity to screen the claimants eligible for consideration for priority hire to ensure that they otherwise meet the qualifications.

"The Department commends the City of Portsmouth for working cooperatively to resolve this matter without contested litigation. We are pleased that Portsmouth has agreed to put in place new selection practices for firefighters that comply with Title VII, and to take necessary steps to provide relief to those African Americans who have been harmed by the City’s hiring practices," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Ending employment practices that have a discriminatory impact on the basis of race is a significant priority of the Department. This settlement sends a clear message that hiring practices with discriminatory impact on account of race will not be tolerated."

"We are grateful that the City is working with the Department to ensure every applicant has an equal opportunity to serve as a firefighter," said Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion. Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also the use of employment practices, such as written examinations, which result in disparate impact, unless the employer can prove that such practices are job related and consistent with business necessity.

The complaint, which was filed today in federal district court in Norfolk, Va., alleges that Portsmouth’s use of a written examination in the selection of entry-level firefighters resulted in disparate impact employment discrimination against African American applicants for that position. According to the complaint, African American applicants passed the written examination at a rate of approximately 42 percent, while the corresponding pass rate for white applicants was approximately 86 percent. The complaint also alleges that Portsmouth cannot demonstrate that the written examination is job related for the firefighter position and consistent with business necessity, as required by Title VII.

More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Department of Justice Web site at

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 09-272