Proposed DOJ civil rights deal could cost city $780,000

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A summary of a proposed settlement between the City of Austin and the federal Department of Justice shows ‘back pay’ for minority firefighter cadets who complete remedial testing would cost city taxpayers up to $780,000.

The summary of the proposed consent decree, attached to the current draft City Council agenda also calls for provisions that allow Austin Fire Department to resume and complete its current cadet hiring process, with some modification to the original design of that process.

In September 2013, a federal investigation determined elements of racial discrimination existed in AFD’s hiring practices. The finding forced the halt of any new hiring. The last graduation of Austin fire cadets was in July 2013. City records show more than 50 vacancies on the 900-plus member department. Four firefighters declared they are retiring on or before March 15.

The summary also notes a requirement any future change to the cadet hiring process during the four to eight-year term of the consent decree must be cleared with DOJ.

The key to the settlement appears to center around a remedial process for unsuccessful Hispanic and African American candidates in the 2012 hiring process. It would provide backpay relief (capped at $780,000 total) and priority hiring relief to candidates who demonstrate they are eligible. The priority hiring component includes 30 positions in future cadet academies, divided between 12 African-American and 18 Hispanic candidate slots.

The proposed consent decree also includes procedures for determining which 2012 candidates would be eligible for backpay and/or priority hiring relief as well as requirements for monitoring and reporting to DOJ on the results of future cadet hiring. The proposal includes a process for resolving disputes, and other provisions commonly included in such decrees.

The summary concludes: “If the City Council and DOJ both approve the proposed consent decree, the decree will be presented to a federal judge through a legal proceeding in federal court. If the federal judge approves the consent decree, it becomes binding on all parties. If the City Council and DOJ do not both approve the proposed consent decree, DOJ has indicated that it will file suit against the City in federal court to address the findings of adverse impact in the AFD hiring process as described above.”

Austin’s Fire Association President Bob Nicks told KXAN the proposal is unchanged from the one briefly posted on the City’s Jan. 30 council agenda. An email to union members said the item was removed after complaints from the union indicating the settlement was incomplete and the Association required more time to analyze firefighter hiring statistics. Nicks said that analysis of the DOJ’s proposal could require another four to six weeks of study. He said the AFA has been included in talks with DOJ civil rights lawyers as part of the settlement process.

In the same Association email, Nicks said he has received financial support from a national firefighters’ union if the local Association ends up protesting any City/DOJ settlement in federal court.

Jan 31st, KXAN reported an August 2013 email to AFD managers showing the Department’s own private consultant overseeing hiring found ‘no adverse impact’ of the current testing model on minorities.

Unless the consent decree item is removed from the draft agenda before the Feb 27th meeting, AFA members said they plan to show their opposition by showing up to council chambers en masse.

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