N.J. fire department’s residency requirement for applicants invalidated

PHILADELPHIA &#8211 A New Jersey fire department’s residency requirement for firefighter applicants is invalid because it results in a disparate impact on African-Americans, a federal appeals court has ruled.

According to Monday’s ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People et al. vs. North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue et al., the fire district imposes a residency requirement on firefighter candidates.

However, once hired, the firefighter can live anywhere, even if it is outside the district that was formed in 1998 as a consortium of five New Jersey municipalities: Guttenberg, North Bergen, Union City, Weehawken and West New York.

The NAACP’s Newark, N.J., branch filed the litigation in April 2007, contending the residency requirement resulted in a disparate impact on African-American applicants.

121 vs. 2

In upholding a lower court decision, the appeals court considered evidence including data that indicated that 37.4% of protective service positions are held by African-Americans in the tri-county area. Based on this percentage, “one would expect 121 North Hudson firefighters to be African-American,” yet the department employs only two.

“In light of the ample evidence of record…the district court did not err in concluding that no genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether North Hudson’s residency requirement creates a disparate impact on African-American firefighter applicants,” the three-judge appeals court panel ruled unanimously.

The court also disagreed with the fire department’s argument that business necessity justifies its residency requirement. “We have no quarrel with the notion that a critical aspect of firefighting is the ability to respond quickly and that familiarity with the streets and buildings of a locale is important to achieving that goal,” said the court. “But this valid point cannot be reconciled with the fact that North Hudson does not require its firefighters to reside in the North Hudson municipalities after they are hired.”

Among cases cited in the Philadelphia appeals court’s ruling was the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Frank Ricci et al. vs. John DeStefano et al., in which the nation’s high court ruled in favor of 17 white and one Hispanic firefighter who were passed over for promotions.

In September, the 3rd Circuit ruled that the city of Newark’s residency requirement for nonuniformed workers may be having a disparate impact on non-Hispanic white applicants.

From Business Insurance.

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