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Deal forces Lynn, Revere to hire minorities for cop, fire jobs

LYNN – Lynn and Revere are among 20 communities that must offer firefighter and police jobs to minorities who took civil service tests that were later ruled discriminatory by a federal judge.The most recent mandate with Affirmative Action overtones comes as a result of an agreement reached Wednesday to settle a class-action lawsuit that traces its roots to Lynn.A court is expected to approve the agreement next week. As a result, 66 minority candidates across the state, all of whom passed the fire and police exams between 2002 and 2005, must be hired. The candidates were not hired initially because other test takers who are white scored higher.The crux of the matter was based on allegations by the minority candidates that the civil service test questions and writing tasks were simply too difficult.Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris ruled that the state examinations given to firefighter candidates in 2002 and 2004 discriminated against minorities. According to Saris, those exams ranked applicants based on how well they scored on written exercises that measure cognitive ability, even though such testing methods were found discriminatory in the early 1970s. Saris also determined that many questions on the exam were unrelated to firefighting and that the state did not take into consideration factors such as the candidate’s life experience and personality.Another trial has been scheduled to consider claims that the 2003 and 2005 police exams were also unfair to minorities.Attorney Harold Lichten, who filed the lawsuit against the state and the city of Lynn on behalf of four black firefighter applicants, said an agreement to settle the matter was reached because the state is now using a new exam that seems fairer to minorities.Lichten said the goal of the class-action lawsuit was to ensure that subsequent civil service exams are designed to more accurately predict job performance, that minorities are afforded a reasonable chance of scoring as well as white applicants, and that the fire departments involved do not again become segregated.The state attorney general’s office agreed to the settlement in order to ward off what could have been a protracted court appeals process.Once the agreement receives the court’s nod of approval, a list of candidates will be drawn up, comprised of those minority candidates who would have been hired if the tests in 2002 and 2004 had not been discriminatory.The candidates must still pass physicals and background checks. Each could be eligible for up to $18,750 in back pay.Another 41 minority applicants since hired as police and firefighters may also be eligible for up to $13,415 each in back pay, based on the premise they would have been hired sooner if the tests were fair to minorities.Lynn Fire Chief Edward Higgins said Thursday he had not received notification of any settlement or information pertaining to potential back pay for overlooked candidates.”The lawsuit was against civil service, which denied the test was discriminatory,” the chief said. “They were supposed to get the test validated every so often, but that didn’t happen. So now the new test, which was given last June, is newly validated.”Higgins said despite the settlement, nobody is guaranteed a job at the city’s Fire Department. “All that means to me is, when I call for a list, those names will come down. But it’s my understanding that nobody has been guaranteed a job. They’re simply assured that their names will be going to the top of the list. But they must still go through the same application process, the medical and psychological tests, the driving and criminal background checks, and the physicals.The civil service has devised a new method of categorizing candidates after the test, which groups them in a range of scoring. For example, candidates who score between 80 and 90 might be in the same group, so that their actual scores can be discarded.”Once you are put in a category, civil service considers everybody in that c

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