White firefighters awarded $2.5 million in discrimination case
By Elizabeth Chuck, msnbc.com
Twelve white firefighters who sued after not getting promotions they were in line to get have been awarded a total of more than $2.5 million from the city of Buffalo.
The men sued the city in 2007, claiming the fire department illegally allowed promotional lists with their names on them to expire so they could promote African-American firefighters instead.
The firefighters' awards were based on how far their promotions would have taken them - $49,000 to $500,000 - plus emotional damages, which ranged from $20,000 to $30,000, reported NBC affiliate WGRZ.com.
"The two fellows who are getting the most were selected for promotion to lieutenant in the fall of 2005 by the fire commissioner, and then again around the end of January 2006 by a new fire commissioner. Those two fellows have never made it to lieutenant," an attorney representing the plaintiffs, Andrew Fleming, told msnbc.com on Thursday. "They had been working 10 or 12 years by 2006. So the judge looked at what their prospective promotions would have been, and ruled that it was likely they would have made battalion commander."
Those two were each given $500,000 based on the judge's calculations, he said.
'They really felt betrayed'
The compensation ruling was awarded on Tuesday by state Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, who 15 months ago made the initial ruling that Buffalo had illegally failed to promote the firefighters because of racial discrimination.
In order to qualify for a promotion, a firefighter needs to take a promotional eligibility exam, which tests the skills they would need to serve as a lieutenant, captain, or other higher-ranking position in the department. The Buffalo case alleged that white firefighters had scored high enough on their exams, but were then denied promotions because the city wanted to give minorities, who hadn't scored as well, the chance to fill those positions.
"The word that kept coming up was betrayal," Fleming said. "They really felt betrayed by the city."
This isn't the first allegation of racial discrimination in the Buffalo Fire Department, or in fire departments around the country. According to a 2010 story on BuffaloNews.com, the department was sued in federal court over the fairness of the promotion exams before: A group of African-American Buffalo firefighters claimed that because only a handful of minorities had passed the tests, blacks did not have an equal shot at promotions as whites did in the department.
A judge dismissed the suit, though, ruling that there was insufficient evident to prove the city intentionally engaged in discrimination against black firefighters.
The awards this week came in a state court case.
Reverse discrimination was also addressed in a lawsuit at a New Haven, Conn. Fire Department that made its way to the Supreme Court in June 2009. Similar to the Buffalo case, the court ruled that white firefighters were unfairly denied promotion because of their race, ruling in favor of the 20 white plaintiffs.
13th firefighter got nothing
In this week's ruling, a 13th firefighter listed in the suit, Anthony Hynes, was not awarded any damages because there wasn't enough evidence to support his claim, according to the court.
"He was up for division chief, which is the highest rank you can get other than fire commissioner," Fleming told msnbc.com. "When he was passed over for it and another year had passed he realized he wasn't going to get it, he made the decision to retire."
The judge likely excluded Hynes because he assumed there wouldn't have been an opening for division chief even if he hadn't retired, Fleming said.
A spokesman for Buffalo told WGRZ.com that officials are reviewing the decision, and the city may appeal the ruling.
Firefighters get damages in bias case
Jul 28, 2011 11:16 a.m.
A group of firefighters who won a reverse discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 have been awarded about $2 million in damages from the city of New Haven, attorneys said Thursday.
The Supreme Court ruled that officials violated white firefighters' civil rights when they threw out 2003 promotion tests results because too few minorities did well. The firefighters returned to U.S. District Court in Connecticut seeking back pay, damages and legal fees.
Court papers indicate 20 firefighters have accepted offers from the city for back pay, additional pension benefits and interest. A trial was scheduled to start Aug. 26.
Attorneys for the city told The Associated Press on Thursday that the firefighters will receive about $2 million as well as pension improvements and the city will pay their attorneys' fees of about $3 million.
"I think it's a fair offer," said Richard Roberts, an attorney who represented the city. "We're glad we can move ahead and put this behind us."
Karen Torre, attorney for the firefighters, says the process should be completed in a few days.
Torre argued in court in 2009 that the firefighters were entitled to back pay with interest for long-overdue promotions, several categories of damages and attorney fees. She said the firefighters were subject to "the humiliation and economic hardship of prolonged career stagnancy in a rancorous atmosphere fostered by raw racial divides."
The case became an issue in confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who ruled against the white firefighters when she served on a federal appeals court.
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Captain's Arbitration Award - 4/30/09
April 30, 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In July of 2008, the City issued a letter to Local 2 concerning page 127 of the Current Labor Agreement. It stated, in essence, that the City will start to promote members to the rank of Captain in strict rank order over the next several orders, which in their view complied with the language of the contract. That action by the City prompted a grievance to be written by my office.
The grievance was heard today before Arbitrator Benn and after opening statements by the Union and the City, Arbitrator Benn decided that he had enough information to issue an interim award.