Minority firefighters rip hiring practices
Whites also complain firefighter tests flawed Minority firefighters rip hiring practices
BRIDGEPORT - Minority firefighter groups charge that the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division intimidated firefighter candidates during recent background checks, part of the hiring process.
The firefighters also dispute the relevance of some of the questions asked during the background check. Internal Affairs conducts the checks and draws up the questions asked.
Meanwhile, a group of white candidates also claims the testing process is flawed and discriminates against whites.
Nearly a dozen minority firefighter candidates complained after the Jan. 17 screening session at City Hall Annex, said Ron Mackey, president of the Bridgeport Firebirds Society, and Donald Day, director of the Northeast region of the International Association of Black Fire Fighters.
They had to fill out a booklet asking for personal and employment information.
"A couple [of candidates] said they kept emphasizing you can't keep anything out" without facing arrest for perjury, Mackey said. "Not, 'You could,' but, 'You will be arrested if you leave something out.' "
Day said that put an overemphasis on the prospect of arrest. "The bulk of the people [candidates] were minorities," he added.
Police and the city's Civil Service Department deny the groups' charges.
John C. Colligan, civil service director, said he had received no complaints but would forward any sent to him to police.
Questioners "always" stress to candidates the penalty for perjury, and that any candidate who gives false information is disqualified from the hiring process, he said.
Sheila Santiago, police spokeswoman, defended the process and the questions candidates were asked. She said anyone aggrieved can file a complaint. None has been filed so far, she said.
they're all subject to a background check," she said. "We have to look into the candidates' backgrounds."
The minority groups said the background questionnaire was 25 pages. The recent session was the first time it was used, they claimed.
The candidates who complained also took issue with the questions.
The candidates said they were asked how many times they'd called out sick from previous jobs and where they had lived since they were born. They also were asked whether they had been expelled from school or been present when someone was arrested.
"We're talking about grown adults here," Day said of the candidates.
The top 100 candidates who passed entrance exams were ranked by score. The list expires two years after the first hiring date.
Day and Mackey said they received complaints almost immediately after the session.
Candidates can file complaints with the city, but many will likely not do so out of fear the city might retaliate by rejecting them, the leaders added.
"They are literally scared to," Mackey said.
He added that he does not expect any complaints to be filed.
Both minority firefighter groups, as well as the Bridgeport Hispanic Firefighters Association, led by Ron Morales, have vowed to monitor the Fire Department's hiring process to ensure fair hiring practices.
The next step is to analyze why some people were eliminated or hired, Day said.
The city could start hiring in April. There are 40 potential openings for firefighters, depending on available funding.
In the 1970s, minority firefighters successfully sued to get a judge to toss out a lieutenant exam, claiming it was racist.
A group of 18 white candidates, led by John Bolton, claim the hiring and testing process was "flawed, discriminatory and unacceptable."
"We're undertaking an analysis of process," said Jerry Leaphart, a Danbury lawyer hired by the group of white candidates.
He said the analysis is "pointing in the direction of serious flaws in the hiring process."
Bolton said his group is having difficulty getting complete test scores from the city for some of the candidates. Nevertheless, they are planning to seek a state court injunction next week, which would stop any new hiring.
"I know of four candidates who failed the written test but are placed in the top 100 of the hiring list," said Bolton, who is at 108.
Staff writer Michael P. Mayko contributed to this report.
What is up with that 4 guys failed written and are in the top 100 on the hiring list???????? . How can that happan???? What do think is going happen here ???? guys
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02-13-2004, 03:34 PM #1
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- Feb 2004
Bridgeport Conn Firefighters test is flawed
02-13-2004, 03:36 PM #2
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- Feb 2004
Weird firefighter test prompts 2-court fight
By MICHAEL P. MAYKO
BRIDGEPORT - A Bridgeport high school graduate with a learning disability wants a federal judge to void the city's 2002 firefighter exam and the resulting hiring list because he claims the test was not properly read to him and he was not given sufficient time to answer each question.
Richard Tuozzoli, the applicant with the learning disability, and his lawyer, Susan Wallace, sued the city and its Civil Service Commission, claiming a bizarre series of incidents during the test affected his final score.
Wallace claims the city avoided a scheduled Feb. 9 injunction hearing in Superior Court by having the case transferred to federal court.
"They [the city attorney's office] threw off our chance to get a timely hearing before a judge," an angry Wallace charged Wednesday. "What they did is tie up the resources of two courts."
But, Associate City Attorney John Mitola said he had the case transferred to federal court because Wallace "raises numerous issues involving the [federal] Americans With Disabilities Act. I count 20 references to terminology of that act in her complaint."
He denied that the transfer was a stalling tactic.
The suit now rests with U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney in Hartford.
But Wallace intends to ask Droney to send it back to state court.
Incidents leading to the lawsuit began in August 2002 when Tuozzoli applied for the entry-level firefighters' exam. He asked the city to accommodate his disability by providing a person to read the questions to him and sufficient time for him to answer them.
The suit claims the city agreed to this in writing.
But, the suit claims, things changed when the test was given on Sept. 14, 2002.
The suit contends that Tuozzoli and three other candidates with learning disabilities were shuttled into a separate room where a female and male city employee were to alternate reading the questions.
"The two proctors [readers] couldn't even agree among themselves how to give the exam," Wallace claimed.
Wallace said the man and woman reading the test soon became involved in a dispute over whether they were to read a question, allow sufficient time to answer and then read the next question or read the entire test and allow sufficient time to answer the questions.
As a result, they elected to have the four candidates vote on how to proceed. When that vote was evenly split, the readers decided to call John Colligan, the city's personnel director, for advice on how to proceed.
The suit claims the male reader told the candidates Colligan ordered him to read the test through, then allow a minute for each question to be answered.
"Throughout the written test, there were interruptions, questions and discussion among the applicants and the [readers], which interfered with [Tuozzoli's] ability to comprehend and answer the questions," the suit charges. "Applicants who are not disabled or who did not request reasonable accommodation were not subject to interruptions, questions and discussions during the written test " according to the suit.
In addition to the test scores and hiring results being voided, the suit asks that Tuozzoli be hired as a firefighter and that the city pay his attorney fees.
"He may be learning disabled, but that wouldn't prevent him from busting into a burning home and rescuing someone," Wallace said of her client.
02-13-2004, 04:35 PM #3The candidates said they were asked how many times they'd called out sick from previous jobs and where they had lived since they were born. They also were asked whether they had been expelled from school or been present when someone was arrested."This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
02-13-2004, 08:12 PM #4
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- May 2003
"He may be learning disabled, but that wouldn't prevent him from busting into a burning home and rescuing someone,"
Now when he is "busting into a burning home", what if something distracts him, will he have to go back to IC and get directions again on what to do and then be given a minute to respond to the order? And if his defense somehow works and he gets hired, I don't think I have to worry about the oral exam anymore, I'll just call his lawyer.
02-17-2004, 11:59 AM #5
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- Feb 2004
Two female firefighters' sexual discrimination lawsuit against the Fire Department could go to trial by April 1, nearly three years after it was filed.
Attorney Susan Wallace, who filed the federal suit, blamed the delay on "stonewalling" by the city in turning over documents.
Senior U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello is handling the suit in U.S. District Court in Hartford.
Wallace alleges in the suit, filed in July 2001 on behalf of firefighters Elizabeth O'Connell and Johanna S. Georgia, that male firefighters openly viewed pornography, intruded in and trashed women's quarters in city firehouses, and gave them ill-fitting clothes and ignored their resulting complaints, among other claims.
Wallace said a federal civil suit typically lasts from 10 to 18 months, and that the city is stalling.
"The city has thrown the kitchen sink and even pots and pans at me," she said.
She said she lost several months while the city sought a partial, then total, protective order on evidence, preventing her from gathering it.
Covello then ordered documents from the Bridgeport Fire Fighters Association Local 834 to be protected.
Attorney Bob Mitchell, who represents the city, said he sought the order after case documents appeared in the press.
He denied Wallace's charges.
"At this point, everything she's asked for, we've delivered," he said. "She seems to be looking for documents that nobody knew she wanted or may or may not fall into the scope of her request."
Firehouse logbooks that may substantiate the firefighters' claims are in dispute, Wallace said.
"There are numerous log books that have turned up missing," she said. "They're like writing on the bathroom wall."
Some of the missing books may contain records of complaints by her clients and other women, she said.
Mitchell said two-and-a-half years is not a long time for civil suits in federal court.
And despite the attorneys' disagreements, they both say Covello is handling the discovery process fairly.
"The city has made every effort to comply with her discovery requirements and has nothing to hide," he said.
Meanwhile, jury selection could begin as early as March.
Though the suit has not been argued in court, the city has already spent about $200,000 defending itself, Caryn Kaufman, spokeswoman for Mayor John M. Fabrizi, said.
The women are demanding fire officials stop discriminatory acts and create and enforce a nondiscrimination policy toward women.
They also seek unspecified punitive damages.
Meanwhile, Covello has rejected Wallace's bid to make the suit a class action.
Wallace claimed there were other victims of sexual and racial harassment in the department who have not complained.
She said she plans to refile her class action bid now that she has more evidence.
The firefighters have other complaints against the Fire Department and its officials.
Georgia has filed three complaints against Fire Chief Michael Maglione and the department's now-retired Deputy Chief Patrick Shevlin. These matters are pending before the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
O'Connell, the city's first firefighter to give birth, has a case before the state Labor Department asking the Fire Department to draft a breast-feeding policy.
Aaron Leo, who covers regional issues, can be reached at 330-6222.
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