Unethical Labor Practices in the Fire Department for African Americans Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1810 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Unethical labor practices in the fire department for African-Americans

Under Fire

Unfortunately, there has been a fairly lenghty history of unethical practices in regards to African-Americans and fire departments in a variety of locations and regions throughout the United States. Sadly enough, the majority of these unethical practices have revolved around conceptions of race and its surrounding connotations that are still all too prevalent even in contemporary times. There have been a number of specific instances in recent years in which African-American firemen have had to pursue litigation and other options as a means of attempting to circumvent these unethical procedures in what is one of the most fundamental, necessary institutions in this country (or in any country, for that matter) today. The effects of these decidedly drastic measures have resulted in reverse racism lasw suits from other firefighters, monetary rewards and grounds for promotions for some African-American firefighters. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate facets of this particular longstanding proclivity of American society is the fact that even in the beginning stages of the 21st century, this frequent occurence (and reoccurence) shows little signs of stopping, despite the fact that certain departments and cities have been forced to take proactive measures to ensure that they are not on the receiving ends of lawsuits regarding this particular claim.

The prolonged history of difficulty for African-American firemen in regards to unethical practices of promotions within this particular insitution spans several decades, if not centuries. In order to understand why, it becomes necessary to examine the nature of fire departments throughout virtually any municipalities in which they exist. Fire departments are largely fraternal organizations -- despite the presence of a few smattering of female fire personnel -- which has several tangible, discernibale ramifications. As a fraternal organization, much like the police department, there is a tradition of favortism, nepotism, as well as a certain public and private sense of prestige that encompasses what often times are highly coveted positions, particularly when laborers consider the significant wages that such employees can make. Subsequently, it has traditionally been difficult for African-Americans to infiltrate such organizations, as the following quotation makes readily apparent. "Hiring African-Americans into the fire department has always been a begruding issue. The environment and culture of the firehouses have ben compared to those of country clubs. Its unique environment, in which the firefighters live together in the firehouse, created a bond and exclusiveness that proved difficult to break down and diversify when hiring minorities. As a result of this country club culture, generational "inheritance" into the department, low turnover, and discriminatory testing, being African-American with aspirations of becoming a firefighter could, at times, be a daunting effort" (Wisconsin Black Historical Society).

Of particular eminence in the preceding quotation is the reference to discriminatory testing, which all too often has been the impetus for allegations of unethical behavior in the marked dearth of promotions of African-Americans within fire departments. A copious body of examples exists in which procedures for testing for promotions have been the impetus for charges of discriminatory measures on the part of both fire departments as well as of the municipalities which they function as a fairly tangible representation of. In order to properly explore the allegations of discrimination which have plagued a number of African-American firefighters, one must understand the value of such examinations upon the promotional process. In many instances, there are other determining factors for ascertaining which employees will be able to advance to the upper ranks of fire departments. However, in most departments in a variety of cities, written exams, which are occasionally augmented by oral components and which may include some physical aspects as well, are the primary determinants for selecting indivduals to be promoted.

One of the most salient examples of this practice can be found within the Houston, Texas fire department, in which seven African-American firefighters pursued legal action on the basis of being discriminated against because they did not score well enough on an examination. The crux of the issue is that the seven firemen, Dwight Bazile, Johnny Garrett, Thomas Ward, Mundo Olford, George Runnels, Trevin Hines and Dwight Allen, actually received scores sufficient enough to pass the written examination that was the primary basis for which the positions of captain and senior captain would be selected from. However, the way this particular exam works -- and which that of many other fire departments works as well -- is that the candidates who achieve the highest scores on the exam are awarded the promotions. So, despite the fact that these seven individuals passed this test that was taken in 2006, none of them were able to be promoted while the vast majority of the high scorers -- and the new captains -- were mostly Caucasian.

When the group decided to pursue litigation about this incident in 2008, their claims were largely based around allegations that the exams were inherently racially biasesd. Specific wording of the legal action filed against the city of Houston and its fire department claimed that the examinations "have an adverse impact upon African-Americans," and that "Whites who passed the exam were promoted at more than twice the rate of blacks who passed, according to the suit. It also claims that studies and research in organizational psychology demonstrate that written job knowledge exams have little value in predicting who will perform better in the postions at stake" (Moran 2011).

It is noteworthy to mention that this lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and that the group of African-American plaintiffs wasd granted upwards of $300,000 for lost wages as well as for attorneys fees. While some of the group has retired from active duty, those still employed by the Houston fire department have been awarded to captaincy status, all of which highly suggests the degree of complicity that Houston's fire department has in this matter. Acccording to an anthropoligist who specialized in education, a frequent cause of the disparity in the scores between Caucasian and African-American firemen in such written examinations is due to "blacks more often receiving an inferior education than whites and minorities' vulnerability to performance anxiety that stem from stereotypes" (Moran 2011). Further evidence of the tacit admission of cuplability issued by the Houston fire department is the fact that the departement plans to utilize a new examination since the settlement. The new examination will be carefully studied by a testing agency to ensure that there is no partisianship on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Litigation against fire departments on the grounds of unethical practice related to race has been somewhat frequent during contemprary times, as has been the adoption of new test standards and regulations as either a result of, or deterrent against incurring, legal action. The attorney for the African-American firefighters in Houston, Dennis Thompson, also represents a group of African-American firefighters in New Haven, who are also seeking to change the promotion process for firefighters in the area -- a process which is largely based upon a written examination. In 2009, litigation pursued by a group of predominantly Caucasian firemen was heard by the Supreme Court, which determined that the group had been victim of reverse discirmination. The basis for the ruling was primarily due to the fact that the New Haven fire department chose to issue another examination after a previous one (in which a group of nearly 20 Caucasians and one Hispanic firefighter) failed to yield any promotions for African-Americans. As a result of the settlement, 14 of those firemen were issued promotions two years ago, a fact which partially explains why Thompson has been retained in attempts to change the measures of testing that determine promotions in that area (and in many others as well). Perhaps a further indication of the complicity of the Houston fire department can be evinced from the fact that in 2008 it was determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it was utilizing a promotion policy that was unequal to female workers (Moran 2011).

Perhaps one of the greatest indicators that African-Americans have routinely faced difficulty due to unethical promotional practices in fire departments can be seen in the difficulty in which they face simply getting hired by these institutions. Yet another lawsuit, this time in Chicago, featured approximately 6,000 plaintiffs -- the majority of whom were African-American -- alledging that the testing measures for entrance into the department were largely racially biased. This particular examination, interestingly enough, was primarily physical in nature, and involved lifting, hauling, and exerting upper body strength. The results of the examination stratified candidates into categories of either qualified or highly qualified for entrance into the department. However, when thousands of African-American candidates were omitted from the department's selection, they claimed that the cutoff score for determining recruits was set arbitrarily, which explained why so many of them were turned away (Reese 2011).

This claim garnered a siginficant amount of conviction and approbation from the Supreme Court in 2011, which mandated the city's department to grant a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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