The city of Austin will stop hiring firefighter candidates from last year's list of candidates because a federal review has determined the application process was discriminatory.
Every time the help wanted sign goes out, the Austin Fire Dept. typically receives 4,000 to 5,000 applications for about 50 to 80 jobs. The hiring process for this year is well underway, but with the arrival of a letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, NAACP President Nelson Linder wants the city to hit the brakes.
"I think what people are doing here is not working, I would say stop the process, accommodate the recommendations and do things the right way," said Linder.
The federal agency sent the letter after an African American, who applied for a fire fighting job last year, claimed he was a victim of discrimination.
According to the review, 38 percent of the African Americans, who took the AFD application test passed. White candidates did much better. Only one black candidate was selected to be part of the 100 person cadet class.
The federal review team concluded the testing process not only discriminated against African Americans but also hurt Hispanic applicants. Addressing that- according to Linder- doesn't mean giving minorities a free pass.
"You can make this test more relevant and also more fair, I don't think its dumbing down, it's dumbing up," said Linder.
Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr was not available for comment. Her only official response has been a memo that was sent out Tuesday. The chief wrote that the city would not debate the federal decision, but she did offer some clarifying points.
In 2012, 636 African Americans applied but only 328 actually took the test. Three made the list of candidates for hiring. According to Chief Kerr, the EEOC was given information to demonstrate that the testing was job related and consistent with business necessity. But as Kerr pointed out the feds were not satisfied with that.
"I would definitely say, we are not dumbing down the test," said Deven Desai, with the city of Austin Labor Relations Office.
A copy of the test could not be provided to FOX 7 because it's owned by the company hired to write it. Desai did say that company is no longer being used by the city because their contract with the city has expired.
"I think we're more focused now on what we're going to do from here, going forward, and our focus here is instead of looking at what has been done our focus is on what we can do from this point going forward so we comply with all federal regulations and have the diversity and quality we are looking for in our fire department," said Desai.
While the city will no longer use the 2012 hiring list any more to fill a cadet class, 96 positions have already been selected for 100 openings. The new test, written by a new company, for the 2013 class is being reviewed by the EEOC.
There are currently 43 African Americans working for AFD. At 79 percent Whites currently dominate the force of 1033 employees. African Americans are at 4 percent and Hispanics at 15 percent. That's not very reflective of Austin's current demographics. Getting there city officials admits may be tough but it will not require lowering standards.
The federal government has stepped in before to force the city of Austin to change the way fire fighters are hired. The last time was in the late 1970's.