Court Terminates Cleveland Fire Consent Decree

Forty years ago, a group of African American citizens challenged the hiring practices of the Cleveland Fire Department. The result was a consent decree that required the City to hire minorities and non-minorities on the basis of a ratio.

Over the years, the Department’s diversity greatly increased. From 1973 to 2000, for example, the percentage of minority firefighters in the Department increased from 4% to 26%. Eventually, a federal court was required to decide whether the consent decree and the mandatory hiring ratio should be discontinued.

In January 2013, the Court ordered the consent decree dissolved. The Court started with the “presumption that after a passage of significant time, the retrospective, remedial purpose of affirmative action has been satisfied.” In the case of the Department, the Court found that there was “no evidence that the consent decree’s racial classifications remain remedial at this point in time. The hiring ratio no longer serves to remedy past discrimination by the Cleveland Fire Department, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there is continuing discrimination in the hiring practices of the Fire Department.

“There have been no challenges by any party, or any third party to the most recent entrance examination; there are no allegations, let alone evidence, that any qualified minority candidate has been overlooked based on their race since the original consent decree went into effect; there is an abundance of evidence that the City has gone out of its way to recruit, tutor, encourage, and assist minority candidates in applying for and passing the entrance examination; the City has in effect a resident preference that in all practicality precludes non-residents (who constitute a higher non-minority population) from making it onto the hiring eligibility list; the City has helped to establish a firefighting program at MLK High School, which has nearly total minority enrollment; the City has voluntarily provided preference points to the graduates of the MLK firefighting program; there are a significant number of minorities in leadership positions with the City, the Public Safety Department, and the Fire Department who have influence on the hiring practices of the Cleveland Fire Department.

“All of these factors combine to compel a finding that there is no evidence, let alone strong evidence, of any discrimination by Cleveland’s Fire Department with regard to their hiring practices, exam content, or scoring methods. Further, there is no evidence that continuing the race-based classifications and hiring ratios will remedy any on-going effects of past discrimination. For all of these reasons, the Court finds that there is simply no evidence that would support the conclusion that a continuation of the consent decree would serve to remedy past discrimination by the Cleveland Fire Department. Rather there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that any past discrimination by the Fire Department in its hiring practices has been eliminated, and there is no continuing impact arising from that past discrimination on any current or future employees, or in the hiring process itself.”

Cleveland Firefighters for Fair Hiring Practices v. City of Cleveland, 2013 WL 101929 (N.D. Ohio 2013).