Tuesday, April 9, 2002
Hupp Terminates City Fire Department’s Racial-Hiring Consent Decree
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A federal judge yesterday threw out a 28-year-old consent decree quota system for hiring Los Angeles city firefighters, saying it had “outlasted its purpose.”
U.S. District Judge Harry L. Hupp of the Central District of California granted the city’s motion to terminate the agreement but rejected the request of four white would-be firefighters to declare it unconstitutional.
The system requiring at least half of the Los Angeles City Fire Department’s new firefighters to be minorities was part of a 1974 agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The white applicants, one of whom since has been hired as a city firefighter, contended the consent decree became an “institutionalized quota system” that infringed the interests of applicants not benefiting from it. They argued workforce parity may never be achieved because of shifting demographics and imbalances in numbers of qualified applicants.
Attorney Manuel Klausner, who represented the four applicants, called the ruling “very good news for all the people of Los Angeles.”
“I think it’s beneficial to anybody who believes applicants should be judged on their merits and not their race,” Klausner said.
Chief Deputy City Attorney Terree Bowers said, “I think it is good news that the consent decree has accomplished its goals of diversity in the fire department.”
The city will continue to diversify the LAFD, he added.
Bowers said the Fire Department’s percentage of black, Asian and Hispanic firefighters stood at 5.06 percent in 1975. In December, minorities made up 50.2 percent, he said.
Plaintiff David Alexander first applied to the department in 1994 and was told the department already had enough white applicants, according to court papers.
In 1999, after successfully completing all necessary hiring tests, Alexander was denied a position because he lived in Long Beach and did not fulfill the residency requirement, according to court papers.
Alexander filed a federal civil rights suit, arguing the consent decree’s policies denied LAFD applicants their constitutional right to be free from discrimination. Two years later, the federal government and the city filed a joint motion to modify the consent decree to remove the residency requirement.
In his ruling, Hupp wrote, “28 years of water has now passed over the dam....The consent decree has outlasted its purpose and is now obsolete, even if legitimate under current standards of law.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has taken a dim view of quotas in recent years. In 1995 it ruled that federal affirmative action programs must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest.
Californians rejected racial preferences in state and local government when they passed Proposition 209 in 1996, but that law did not affect court orders and consent decrees already in force at the time.
Department of Justice officials had supported terminating the consent decree, but had asked Hupp to keep an element of it that would have allowed them to review the qualification exam for firefighters. Hupp denied that request.
Alexander is now a Los Angeles city firefighter. Klausner said the Fire Department is reconsidering hiring the other three plaintiffs, and that further legal action is possible if they are not hired.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company