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Fire departments have found themselves the target of several high profile race discrimination lawsuits based on their employment exams. And courts have been all over the map with their rulings.
Most recently, the 2nd U.S. District Court of Appeals upheld the City of Buffalo's employment exam finding that while there was a disparate impact against black firefighters, the test was not discriminatory.
A group representing black firefighters had sued claiming that the test was discriminatory as only 43 percent of black firefighters passed the exam, as compared to 76 percent of their white counterparts, reports Reuters.
Generally, plaintiffs can sue for race discrimination if there is either intentional discrimination (e.g., creating a hostile work environment) or unintentional discrimination. Proving intentional discrimination is generally straightforward; a plaintiff only has to show that the defendant engaged in the discriminatory conduct.
However, proving unintentional discrimination is usually much harder. Thus plaintiffs generally turn to statistics to prove their case, such as the employment examination statistics for black and white firefighters.
In addition, just because an employer's policy or test leads to a disparate impact against a certain race, this does not necessarily mean that the employer engaged in illegal discrimination. Instead, if the employer has a valid, non-discriminatory, reason for the test, the test will be upheld.
In the Buffalo firefighters case, the Court of Appeals recognized the employment exam had a disparate impact against black firefighters. However, the court did not find the exam discriminatory as it found that the test was a valid assessment of the skills, knowledge, ability and personality traits needed to succeed as a fire lieutenant, reports Reuters.