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Fire Captain Suspended Over Shady Recruitment Tactics

Fire Captain Suspended Over Shady Recruitment Tactics

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Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

March 08, 2010

“I look at this as serious, and we’re going to continue to investigate,” Ayers said. “We’re going to find out exactly what happened here.”

The incident is certain to intensify the legal fight over hiring and promotion among white and black firefighters’ groups and the city.

The department, which has 2,180 firefighters and paramedics, operates under a 1975 consent decree that was reached in response to a federal lawsuit by Club Valiants alleging discrimination in hiring. The decree sets a hiring quota for black candidates.

Currently, 27 percent of the department is black, according to the city, up from less than 8 percent in 1973. Three of the department’s five top positions are held by African Americans, according to the city, including Ayers, a past president of Club Valiants.

Figures provided last year by the city showed a department that was 66 percent white, 6 percent Hispanic, and 6 percent female.

Club Valiants and the Concerned American Fire Fighters Association, a group of mostly white firefighters, disagree on whether the consent decree’s goals have been met. The city and CAFFA want the decree dissolved, and white firefighters, in a series of lawsuits in recent years, have alleged that the hiring and promotion process is stacked against them.

A hearing on the fate of the consent decree is scheduled for May before U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O’Neill in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Club Valiants sued the city, CAFFA, and the firefighters’ union last year, alleging a hostile, racist work environment and citing derogatory racial postings on the Web site of the local union, Local 22 of the International Association of Firefighters. The suit is pending.

Separately, a white fire captain, James Williamson, sued the city Monday to block oral examinations for battalion chief and deputy chief that began the next day. The suit alleges that the department failed to comply with terms of a settlement last year with five white officers who said they had been discriminated against in the promotions process for captain.

Those officers won $275,000 in a 2007 civil-rights lawsuit alleging that the oral portion of the captains’ test unfairly favored African American candidates. The city also agreed to develop written procedures for the selection of outside test raters.

Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox would not block the test.

To further complicate the backdrop, Gore said he was a candidate for the Valiants’ presidency against Greene in next month’s election. Gore said he withdrew Friday after Greene confronted him with last Sunday’s e-mail.

“It’s all because the man wanted to be president, and he got it,” Gore said.

Greene said in an interview last night that he would have taken the same action against anyone who behaved outside the code of conduct among the Valiants’ leadership.

This is the first time the city has used an electronic system for firefighter applications.

Greene said several potential candidates complained that their applications had not gone through.

Gore said he had sent the e-mail after meeting a recruit that day who had just lost his job and was distraught about supporting his wife and children. The man said he had tried to apply electronically but encountered problems. Gore said he later referred the man to the Police Department.

“I had a gentleman in front of my face, and he was crying,” said Gore, who is a Baptist preacher. “I did mistakenly think out loud in an e-mail. I didn’t think anything was wrong with it. I was just trying to get somebody a job.”