A group of black firefighters says Akron is discriminating against them when it comes to a new promotional exam.
But the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 330 calls that claim “absurd,” and the city says the test has been overseen by a federal monitor to assure its fairness.
The dispute centers around an exam given to lieutenants earlier this month for promotion to captain.
The city and union struck a deal in late March saying bonus points wouldn’t be awarded for military service and living in the city for this exam.
But Akron lawyer Ed Gilbert, who represents six black firefighters, said Thursday that the lack of bonus points disproportionately impacts the black firefighters.
He sent a letter to the city last week saying the agreement violates the union’s contract and a charter change in 2010 that added the bonuses. The letter asks that the city not issue grades or create an eligibility list.
The black firefighters are not identified in the letter.
“Most of the time with African-Americans, we are an afterthought,” Gilbert said in an interview. “People don’t think of how that affects the diversity because it’s generally not a priority for them. And so unfortunately we have to stand up and say, ‘Hey, you guys. How about us?’”
He said he is talking with the city about the issue.
Aretta Bernard, an attorney with Roetzel & Andress who is representing the city in ongoing litigation over promotional exams, said a federal monitor has watched the testing to make sure it isn’t discriminatory.
“The process has been very transparent and scrutinized,” she said.
IAFF Local 330 President Russ Brode also contested Gilbert’s conclusion.
“This is not something that’s impacting on a race level, whatsoever. Not a bit,” he said. “I think that’s a ridiculous claim and this local would never do anything to try and harm based on race. That’s absolutely absurd.”
Brode said the union membership is against using bonus points and wants a level playing field for exams.
He added that the vast majority of white lieutenants who took the recent test — he couldn’t provide a specific number — live in the city and would qualify for the points.
It’s unclear how many would benefit from military service.
The residency and military service issues are part of an ongoing lawsuit involving the union and city. A Summit County Common Pleas judge has ruled that bonus points can be used for military service but not residency.
The city has appealed the decision to the 9th District Court of Appeals.
The agreement not to use the bonus points for the latest exam was signed by Brode and Deputy Mayor of Labor Relations Randy Briggs.
It states that it was reached to avoid litigation. It would be ironic if it led to a lawsuit, Brode said, especially with the city and union recently agreeing to settle a decade-long suit over promotions.
“I think it would be pretty sad if we got pulled back into litigation over promotions when we’re just now shaking that mud off of our legs,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.