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Home arrow Management arrow Recommendations for improving the recruiting and hiring of los angeles firefighters

Costs Borne by the Applicant

All applicants are required to pay $150 for their CPAT testing. Candidates are also responsible for covering transportation costs for trips to the Personnel Department, the Convention Center, and to one of the CPAT testing facilities located outside the city. This does not include implicit costs associated with missing work, childcare, etc. Considering how to minimize the impact of these activities on the costs to the applicant are important goals for ensuring fairness to individuals in the process.

Additionally, some applicants pay to take courses (like the -$10,000 paramedic course administered at the University of California, Los Angeles) or hire outside consultants (typically retired firefighters) for test preparation and interview advice. Steps should be taken to ensure that these types of activities do not unfairly advantage those who have the financial means to pay for them.[1] Examples of ways to help prevent this include offering access to free test preparation and interview advice similar to what is provided by paid consultants. Consideration could also be given to not requiring paramedic training or to not giving preference to those candidates who have such training.

Legal Defensibility

As we noted in the preface, it is not the intention of this report to offer legal advice or legal strategy. However, any recommendations for hiring practices should take into consideration some key issues associated with employment law. For that reason, some minimum discussion of those issues is necessary. This section introduces the concept of fair and lawful treatment of members of protected groups.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991), it is unlawful to engage in a hiring practice that intentionally discriminates (called disparate treatment) or inadvertently discriminates (called disparate impact) against members of a protected group (defined by race, color, sex, national origin, or religion),[2] unless the practice is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The determination of disparate treatment is based on the intentions and motives of the employer or individuals involved in the hiring process.

Disparate impact, in contrast, can occur irrespective of intent. It is instead determined on the basis of several types of statistical evidence, one of which is known as the 4/5ths rule (or the 80% rule).[3]

Employment practices that violate the 4/5ths rule–that is, that result in a selection ratio for a protected group that is less than 4/5ths, or 80 percent, of the selection ratio for another protected group–are deemed to have disparate impact. Selection practices that have disparate impact are not considered unlawful if they are job-related or tied to a business necessity and no other reasonable alternatives with less disparate impact are available. Put another way, the selection practice is discriminatory if it shows disparate impact and the employer cannot provide sound evidence that it is job-related. Hiring procedures that are engineered to treat everyone the same, regardless of membership in a protected class, can prevent disparate impact. Relatedly, employers that regularly examine their selection procedures can better defend against claims of disparate impact.

One additional issue of legal defensibility concerns the potential for claims of what the media calls reverse discrimination. In a recent Supreme Court decision involving firefighters {Ricci v. DeStephano, 557 U.S. 557, 2009), the court clarified that selection decisions cannot be thrown out simply because there appeared to be disparate impact of the procedure. In that case, the employer chose to not examine whether the test was in fact valid. By not examining validity, the act of throwing out the decisions was determined to be unlawful because it was racially motivated (it was done specifically to increase minority representation). The case clarifies that employers cannot take actions to remedy or avoid unintentional disparate impact unless they have amassed certain types of evidence showing the practice would be considered unlawful under Title VII (see Biddle and Biddle, 2013, for more on this). Put simply, the Ricci case clarifies that changing a selection practice with the goal of increasing diversity may not be legally defensible.

  • [1] Examining the effects of those courses on applicant interview scores would be one way to determine if the courses offer an unfair advantage. If the courses falsely inflate scores such that people do better in the interview, but not better in training or on the job, then explore ways to make the selection process less susceptible to that type of coaching. If it increases both scores and later performance in training or on the job, then consider offering everyone similar course materials online for free.
  • [2] Other characteristics (such as sexual orientation) are protected under local and state laws.
  • [3] Although several federal agencies have adopted this rule, no federal court has adopted it as the definitive rule. Courts approach it on a case-by-case basis. Some courts have criticized it, and others have outright rejected it in favor of other rules.
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