Firefighter Decision Pits Hispanic Against African-American Applicants

The North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR) is a consolidated fire department in New Jersey. In New Jersey, civil service positions such as firefighter are subject to the examination process administered by the New Jersey Department of Personnel. In order to be placed on the NHRFR’s hiring list, a candidate must also live in one of the municipalities served by the NHRFR.

As of July 2008, the NHRFR had 323 full time employees. Of those employees, two were African American, 64 were Hispanic, 255 were white and two identified as other races.

The NAACP sued the NHRFR, arguing that the NHRFR’s geography-based hiring plan caused discrimination against African-Americans who resided in the area. A group of Hispanic potential firefighters intervened in the lawsuit, seeking to uphold the NHRFR’s hiring practices.

A federal court rejected the lawsuit. The Court required the NHRFR to show that the residency requirement was job related for the position of firefighter and consistent with business necessity.

The Court found that the NHRFR met these tests. The Court found that its maintenance of the residency requirement served a number of business purposes: Avoiding a risk of suit by Hispanics and correcting past allegations of discrimination and an historic under-representation of Hispanics in the NHRFR.

The Court held that “having Hispanic firefighters serve a majority Hispanic and often Spanish-speaking population fosters communication between the NHRFR and the community. Additionally, it fosters trust between the community and the population.”

The Court also ruled that “the residency requirement does increase the probability that a firefighter will live in the community. This increased probability ensures more firefighters will be able to report to work more quickly in the case of an emergency.”

The Court reasoned that “the avoidance of more costly litigation, the fostering of communication between protective services workers and the community they serve, and the increased probability of having workers able to respond quickly in the case of an emergency” made it clear that the NAACP could not prevail in the case.

NAACP v. North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, 2010 WL 1641016 (D. N.J. 2010).

This article appears in the August 2010 issue