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NAACP Charges Bias in Pomona Fire Dept.

July 24, 1988|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — Charges that the Pomona Fire Department is guilty of racial and sex discrimination in its hiring and promotion practices have been filed with federal officials by the Pomona Valley chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

The filing of the charges last week with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the first step toward bringing a lawsuit against the city in federal court, said attorney Christopher Brancart, who is representing the NAACP and four complainants who are black.

The complaint cites a 1986 report by the city to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that of the department's 105 firefighters, none were women, three were black and 10 were Latino. Pomona's population is 30% Latino and 18% black, according to the 1980 Census.

Statistics were unavailable on the current ethnic composition of all firefighters in the department, but of 76 firefighters below the rank of captain on June 30, three were black and eight were Latino, said Faye Brown of the city's personnel department.

"We are demanding that there be more black, women and (Latino) firefighters," said the Rev. Walter Cooks, president of the Pomona Valley NAACP. "All other ways have completely failed as far as getting parity on the Fire Department."

The complaint attributes the disparity between the department's ethnic composition and that of the general population to racial and sex discrimination in its hiring, the testing applicants must undergo and promotion decisions.

"They're intentionally discriminating," Brancart said. "They don't want blacks and women in their department, and once they hire them, they don't intend to promote them."

Unaware of Complaint

Fire Chief Tom Fee said he was not aware a complaint had been filed but said he had spoken to Brancart over the last two months and had provided the attorney with information on the department's ethnic composition.

Fee said the department follows the city's anti-discrimination policy, which encourages the hiring of ethnic and racial minorities, women and older people.

"We actively recruit in all areas, and that includes minorities and women," Fee said. "We just recently went through a testing procedure, the filing period was open for two weeks, during which time I and other members of the department encouraged involvement by the minority community."

Brancart said it is not necessary to prove that the department intentionally discriminates in its hiring. He noted that in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the intent to discriminate need not be proven if statistical evidence indicates an under-representation of groups protected by anti-discrimination laws.

Of 726 applicants for five firefighting positions now available, 138 qualified for oral interviews after taking the written examination and passing the physical agility test, Fee said. Of these, 40 had scores that put them in the "A ban," the top group from which the department fills the positions, he said.

No Blacks, Women

Fee said he did not know the exact composition of this group because applicants may not be required to list their race or sex. However, he said the group contained no blacks or women, but some Latinos, whom the department will seek to hire if they pass background checks on their character.

Brancart countered that the testing process is not a valid explanation for the low number of minority and women firefighters; rather, it is the reason for it.

The tests are discriminatory because they do not accurately measure the skills needed to perform the job, Brancart said. He cited the physical agility test, which he said unfairly disqualifies women who could otherwise be capable firefighters.

Fee said the main reason for the absence of women in firefighting positions is that few women apply for them.

"A firefighter's job is not the type of job that appeals to a lot of female applicants . . . probably because of the physical involvement required to do the job," Fee said.

Brancart said he does not expect the percentage of women in the department to match that of the general population, but he says they are under-represented.

"Although you may not attain the goal of 50% women, the fact that we haven't had one (female firefighter) is evidence of discrimination," he said.

A major obstacle to increasing the proportion of minorities in the department is the small number of positions available, Fee said. The five available positions opened up over the last 18 months, he said.

"That's a large amount for us," Fee said. "Part of the problem in reaching our in-house goal in the area of minorities is that we have an extremely low turnover. People who select firefighting as a career will usually select a department and stay with that department until they retire."

Takes Time

"To take a work force of 100 people and change the mixture of that takes a period of time to do," Fee added.

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