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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Firefighter Test Brings New Haven a Fresh Suit

Published: October 15, 2009

The city of New Haven, which the United States Supreme Court found this year to have discriminated against a group of mostly white firefighters, was hit with another federal lawsuit on Thursday, this time from a black firefighter who contends that the way the city scored a 2003 promotion test will keep him from getting the position he deserves.

Michael Briscoe, a 10-year veteran who is 37, says in his suit that the scoring was unfair because it undervalued the oral portion of the test, on which he did better. His suit, which was filed by David Rosen, the lawyer who brought the case more than 30 years ago that first helped integrate the department, contends the oral part of the test more clearly measures the skills required to do the job.

New Haven had seven vacancies for captain and seven for lieutenant when it administered the exams to 118 test-takers in 2003. The written portion counted for 60 percent of the grade and the oral part the rest.

African-Americans argued then that they were underrepresented among the high scorers, and the city never certified the results, so the promotions were never granted. That decision prompted the 2004 suit by the largely white firefighters, led by Frank Ricci, who had done well. The Supreme Court in June found in favor of Mr. Ricci and his group, and the city said Thursday that it now intended to certify the 2003 results.

In his suit, Mr. Briscoe says he scored the highest of the 77 candidates for lieutenant on the oral portion of the exam, but he expected to be only 24th from the top given the way the city weighted the two sections. His suit says that many cities place more weight on oral versus written exams.

New Haven’s corporation counsel, Victor A. Bolden, issued a statement that the city was “focused on moving forward not backwards.” He said that he expected the city to “make promotions consistent” with the list generated by the 2003 exam, but that “the city will continue to pursue better means for making future promotions in the department.”

Karen Torre, the lawyer who brought the Ricci case, issued her own statement: “It is our position that Mr. Rosen’s suit is legally baseless, untimely and filed for the improper purpose of attempting to delay my client’s promotion and the city of New Haven’s compliance with an opinion and order of the United States Supreme Court.”

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