Judge Invalidates Jury’s Verdict Against Fire Department for Age Discrimination

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

A San Francisco judge tossed out a jury’s $3.7 million verdict that found that 15 of the city’s firefighters had suffered age discrimination during a lieutenant’s promotional exam.

In what is being deemed a major victory for the city’s officials, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said there was a lack of substantial evidence supporting the jury’s claims. The jury had voted 9-3 in favor of the firefighter’s age discrimination claims. A unanimous vote is not required in civil cases.’

“The court does not take lightly its decision to invalidate the jury’s verdict,” said  Judge Massullo, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The jury had reportedly agreed with the firefighter’s claims that the exam process was “fatally flawed,” and that it was skewed against firefighters who were over the age of 40. Of the 745 firefighters who took the lieutenant’s exam, less than a third of them passed. It was the first such exam to have been given in a decade.

Three of the firefighters who brought the case against the city have retired since the exam was taken in 2008. They had accused the city of arbitrarily altering dozens of test scores and shredding documents before the firefighters had a chance to file a legal challenge. Judge Massullo said that, while she viewed the city’s decision to destroy the documents as “misguided at best,” she believed the test was “overwhelmingly successful” in measuring the firefighters’ job-related skills in a “fair and objective” way.

Although Judge Massullo made the decision to toss the Jury’s 2013 verdict last month, the Chronicle notes that she separately granted the City of San Francisco’s motion for a new trial, citing the “possibility that an appellate body could disagree with the court’s conclusions.”

The attorney representing the firefighters, Murlene Randle, said the plaintiffs would appeal, the Chronicle notes. “We are struggling for justice. But we will not stop fighting,” Randle reportedly said.

Tests for lieutenant, battalion chief, and assistant chief, in addition to other Fire Department exams, have reportedly been under legal attack for years by firefighters who view the tests as being flawed. The Chronicle notes that, while the lieutenant’s test was the first to go to trial under the premise of age discrimination, the next trial is expected to proceed under the guise of racial discrimination in an attempt to challenge the exam for battalion chief.

The exam for battalion chief was also taken in 2008. In July of this year, a federal appeals court  reinstated a lawsuit put forth by three black firefighters who claimed racial bias in the 2008 exam. The Chronicle notes that while some African Americans won promotions in the 2008 exam, three black veteran firefighters who did not receive immediate promotions claimed the test was flawed and relegated most black applicants to the bottom of the list.

Randle will reportedly be representing the firefighters in the racial discrimination case as well.

Adelle Nazarian is on Twitter @AdelleNaz


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