Austin Fire Dept. taking heat from Feds for 'discriminatory' hir - | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Austin Fire Dept. taking heat from Feds for 'discriminatory' hiring process

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Last week FOX 7 told you about the failing grade the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave the Austin Fire Department for how it selected its cadets last year.

Well now the Department of Justice is saying the City's current hiring process for 2013 is no better when it comes to discrimination.

In a letter to the City of Austin this week from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Feds say they've determined "the city is engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans and Hispanics."

In response, Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr issued a statement referring to the discrimination as "unintended."

Kerr said "I will continue to work with the City Law Department and the Department of Justice with regard to the hiring practices of the Austin Fire Department.'

City Manager Marc Ott also issued a statement saying "We appreciate the Justice Department's attention to this matter and the acknowledgement of our cooperation during the investigation. We have been unable to find a solution on our own and that is unfortunate."

"This is how I interpret that. You've got all these opposing parties who work for the same department. You've got city management, you've got the regular union, you've got the black unions, you've got a fire chief. And none of these folks for the most part have combined their efforts and said 'Look, let's get this done. Let's get away from thinking about dumbing down the process or affirmative action. Let's talk about how to make this a fair process and let's agree not to sue each other but to get the right outcome. But nobody will say that," said Nelson Linder with the Austin Chapter of the NAACP.

Linder says the discrimination at the fire department has been a problem for a long time.

He has spoken with minorities who are currently firefighters and those who didn't make the cut.

"When I talk to black folks who have taken this exam, they don't say specifics. They are surprised that they failed it. And these are very intelligent people. That's why I think obviously, it's a process and the way the whole test is structured. I think they're giving too much credit to things that people are not familiar with," Linder said.

Currently whites make up 79 percent of the department. African Americans make up 4 percent and Hispanics, 15 percent.

Gavino Fernandez with LULAC says if the city can't solve this, they need to look around.

"This is one where we need to go back to the drawing board and reassess with a different test. We have large communities throughout the country where there are heavy minority communities that have fire departments. Maybe we need to look at the tests that they apply or they use. For example, San Antonio, Laredo, all those large communities that have large Latino populations," Fernandez said.

The Department of Justice letter says the United States will file its complaint in late October.

The DOJ is hoping the city will adopt and implement new employment practices that don't violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- as well as provide relief to African American and Hispanic applicants who were harmed by their hiring practices.

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