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Jacksonville Agrees to Pay $4.9 Million to Settle a Racial Discrimination Lawsuit


On February 14th, 2019 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), announced that the City of Jacksonville — more specifically, the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters — agreed to pay $4.9 million to affected parties to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit. In addition, the city agreed to take measures to reform the employment practices within its firefighters union.

The employment lawsuit was filed against Jacksonville’s firefighters union on the grounds that it used racially discriminatory policies to award promotions to employees. In this article, our West Palm Beach employment law attorneys provide an analysis of the settlement reached between the EEOC and the City of Jacksonville.

The Allegations: City Firefighter Union and Racially Discriminatory Promotions  

Originally, the EEOC filed this lawsuit against the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters back in the Spring of 2012. In its initial claim, the agency alleged that the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, the EEOC raised a claim that there was race-based discrimination in the process that the public fire fighters union used to promote candidates. Among other things, the EEOC contended that the process being used had an unlawful, disparate impact on African American firefighters.  

Understanding Employment Discrimination: What is Disparate Impact? 

Title VII and similar Florida state statutes prohibit racial discrimination in employment practices. A policy that is deemed to have disparate impact may be unlawful, even if the policy itself is not discriminatory on its face. In essence, a disparate impact occurs when a formally neutral policy affects certain protected groups in an unfair manner.

When policies have a disparate impact, employers must be able to demonstrate that the imposed requirements are reasonable and necessary, otherwise they will be deemed unlawful. As an example, if a firefighters union required all job candidates to be able to carry 150 pounds up a flight of stairs, that policy would likely have a disparate impact on the female job candidates, as a class. However, for obvious reasons, that type of requirement is reasonable and actually related to the underlying job duties — therefore, it is, and has previously been ruled, legally permissible.

On the other hand, if a firefighters union decided to offer preference to job candidates from a certain zip code, and after a review, it turns out that African American and Latino candidates are far less likely to live in the selected zip code, such a policy may be deemed to be unlawful and discriminatory. Unless a compelling underlying basis can be presented as to why any zip code should be preferred, employers would not be able to use that metric as the basis for policy, since a protected class would suffer a disproportionate impact.  

Consult With Our West Palm Beach Employment Lawyers

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our West Palm Beach employment attorneys have the skills and experience needed to handle the full range of discrimination claims, including racial discrimination cases. We represent both employers and employees. For a fully confidential employment law consultation, please do not hesitate to call us at 561-291-8298 (our West Palm Beach law office) or at 305-985-5281 (our Miami law office).




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