Court Upholds St. Louis Fire Department Promotional Examinations

The promotional process in the St. Louis, Missouri Fire Department has long been hampered by litigation over whether promotional tests discriminate on the basis of race. The Firefighters’ Institute For Racial Equality (FIRE) and Local 73 of the International Association of Fire Fighters have often taken opposing positions in litigation over the legality of the testing process. The most recent battle involved promotional examinations for fire captain and battalion chief in the years 2000 and 2004. FIRE contended that both sets of examinations had an adverse impact on the basis of race and hence violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

A federal trial court turned away the challenges. To begin with, the Court found that with one of the four examinations – the 2000 battalion chief examination – FIRE was unable to show an adverse impact on the basis of race. As no promotions had been made from the 2004 battalion chief and fire captain examinations, the Court concluded that it was premature to make any judgments as to whether an adverse impact occurred.

However, the Court ruled, even if an adverse impact resulted from all four examinations, the City still proved that the tests were job-related and consistent with business necessity. The Court found that the tests were “content validated” and described the process as follows: “Content validation relies upon data showing that the content of the selection procedure is representative of important aspects of performance on the job. In her testimony, the City’s expert witness described in detail the steps taken to create an accurate job description for each position at issue. She described the steps taken to discern the abilities, and in the case of the fire captain position, the knowledge sources, important to job performance and the steps taken to construct test components that measure these constructs. The data supports these linkages.

“The data produced at trial shows that the task lists accurately describe the fire captain and the battalion chief jobs. The data establishes the most important duties. The data identifies the most important specific knowledge sources for the fire captain position and the manner in which these knowledge sources are used.”

The Court concluded that the City had “presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the 2000 and 2004 fire captain and battalion chief examinations were job related for the positions in question and consistent with business necessity. The FIRE plaintiffs did not produce any evidence of alternative selection procedures of which the City was apprised which would have been as substantially valid as the 2000 and 2004 fire captain and battalion chief examinations, but with lesser adverse impact. The FIRE plaintiffs have therefore failed to meet the burden of proof required for a finding that the 2000 and 2004 fire captain and battalion chief examinations were discriminatory by reason of adverse impact on African-Americans.”

Stewart v. City of St. Louis, 2007 WL 1557414 (E.D. Mo. 2007).

This article appears in the August 2007 issue