Jacksonville to pay $4.9M to settle firefighter discrimination suit

City, fire department and firefighters union sign off on agreement

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville, its fire department, the firefighters' union and the U.S. Justice Department have reached a settlement agreement in an ongoing lawsuit over Jacksonville Fire and Rescue's discrimination in promotional practices.

The settlement, announced Thursday, would have the city create up to 40 promotion positions and award $4.9 million that would be split up among the plaintiffs. The agreement in a case in a trio of lawsuits, the first of which was filed in April 2012, must still be approved by a federal judge and the financial commitment passed by Jacksonville City Council.

Both sides had worked toward a written agreement in two lawsuits brought by the Justice Department against the city of Jacksonville and the fire department, as well as a third lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters claiming that black applicants were discriminated against in promotional tests between 2004 and 2011. 

In a joint motion filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the Justice Department, the city, the International Association of Fire Firefighters, EEOC and various private plaintiffs asked the court to enter a provisional order setting out the terms of the settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, the city agrees to develop new promotional examinations for the selection of certain positions in the JFRD, offer settlement promotions to qualified African-Americans and establish a $4.9 million settlement fund for those with eligible claims.

COURT FILING: Settlement agreement, supporting documents

The lawsuits contended that black firefighters were unintentionally discriminated against in the process of taking promotion exams, which created a "disparate impact" on them by ranking their scores at the bottom of the test results.

“The Justice Department is committed to enforcing Title VII to remove unlawful discriminatory barriers,” said John Gore, acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division. "The settlement agreement announced today ensures that all promotional candidates in the JFRD are given a fair opportunity to compete for advancement."

The president of the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters, the professional organization for the city's black firefighters, told News4Jax in April, when the consent decree previewing the settlement came out, that he has noticed things have changed, but not as fast as they would like to see. 

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, a defendant in one of the lawsuits, said it has and will continue to champion those who challenge policies and procedures that are not up to today’s values and standards of social acceptability. 

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