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Case 37: Boston Fire Dept. Lawsuit
COURT DECISIONS

Equal Opportunity NOT Equal Results
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Below are the three court decisions which ultimately ended racial quotas and reverse discrimination in the Boston Fire Department. BostonLogo110.gif (7356 bytes)
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The Discrimination Lawsuit

          The recent victory in Quinn v. City of Boston represents a small but significant victory for color-blind employment practices and for the elimination of discriminatory racia quotas.  

          The Boston Fire Department is now legally required to hire the highest-scoring firefighter applicants regardless of their skin color.  Can you imagine that?   The Quinn decision terminated an intrusive and racially discriminatory federal court decree known as Beecher which, for the past 29 years, has required Boston to discriminate against white and other non-preferred minority firefighter applicants in favor of preferred minorities. Court
See the Boston Court Decisions
Decisions

          In a legal sense Quinn is an extremely narrow victory because the outcome hinged upon the plaintiffs proving that the racial quota requirements (racial parity) mandated by the intrusive racial quota decree known as Beecher had been met.  Thus, this decision did not strike down racial quota programs in general, and did not address the serious Consitutional issues raised when activist judges and courts specify the proportion of races and ethnicities which must be hired for a given occupation.


TABLE: The Three Court Rulings

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Link:
Ruling: Title: Court: Docket / Case No. Judge:
1
(Discussion and summary of the ruling. Download the opinion.)
May 17, 2002:
District Judge Stearns rejects the discrimination claim of Quinn, et al.

Joseph Quinn, et al.
v.
City of Boston and Boston Chapter of the NAACP Intervenor

Memorandum and Order on Cross Motions for Summary Judgment

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts 01-CV-10598-RGS Richard G. Stearns, District Judge
2
(Discussion and summary of the ruling. Download the opinion.)
March 27, 2003:
Reversed the District Court decision (Judge Stearns), remanded to District Court for further proceedings.

Joseph E. Quinn, et al.,
Plaintiffs, Appellants,
v.
City of Boston, et al.,
Defendants, Appellees

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts

United States Court of Appeals
For the First Circuit
02-1727 Bruce M. Selya, Circuit Judge

Norman H. Stahl, Senior Circuit Judge

Kermit V. Lipez, Circuit Judge

3
(Discussion and summary of the ruling. Download the opinion.)
Aug. 24, 2003:
District Judge Stearns orders Boston Fire Department to hire the named plaintiffs at the earliest opportunity.

Orders that plaintiffs shall receive seniority and pay levels consistent with having been hired with the class of 2000 (on which date the discrimination occurred).

Joseph Quinn, Sean O'Brien, Robert Dillon, Joseph Sullivan and C. Roger Kendrick, Jr.
v.
City of Boston

Order on Plaintiffs' Renewed Motion for a Preliminary Injunction

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts 01-10598-RGS Richard G. Stearns, District Judge

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Details and Analysis of Court Rulings

1. May 17, 2002 - District Court:  Rejects the discrimination claim of the white firefighter applicants. [Return to Table]
 

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts

Joseph Quinn, et al.
v.
City of Boston and Boston Chapter of the NAACP Intervenor

Memorandum and Order on Cross Motions for Summary Judgment

No. 01-CV-10598-RGS

Summary, Comments and Analysis:  Selected excerpts from District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns ruling on May 17, 2002 appear below.  The District Court accepted the NAACP's argument that racial parity in the Boston Fire Department had not been reached, and the District Court accepted without much critical analysis NAACP's definition regarding how racial parity was to be computed unter the Beecher decree.
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          "On April 11, 2001, plaintiffs Joseph Quinn, Sean O’Brien, Robert Dillon, and Joseph Sullivan filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston alleging that they had been denied jobs as entry level firefighters in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the federal and state Civil Rights Acts."  [The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court, in the District of Massachusetts. District Judge Richard G. Stearns presiding.]

          "[Quinn, et al] maintain that the City discriminated against them by giving hiring preferences to minority candidates who had lower test scores on the state firefighter’s examination.  The City, supported by intervenor Boston Chapter, NAACP, argued that its hiring decisions were in conformity with the terms of a consent decree (the Beecher decree), entered in Boston Chapter, NAACP, Inc. v. Beecher, 371 F. Supp. 507 (D. Mass. 1974), aff’d , 504 F.2d 1017 (1st Cir. 1974)." 

          Analysis:  The Beecher decree, issued in 1974 by Judge Freedman, ruled that "the Fire Fighter Entrance Examination used by the Massachusetts Division of Civil Service to screen candidate firefighters had historically discriminated against black and hispanic applicants.  Judge Freedman ordered that any future examination be validated under EEOC guidelines, and that preferential hiring procedures be introduced to rectify the effects of past discrimination."   [Emphasis added.]  The Beecher decree mandated that until racial parity was achieved, fire departments had to hire 1 minority for every 1 white.   This is informally known as the "1 for 1" hiring rule.

          On May 17, 2002 Judge Stearn rejected the plaintiffs' discrimination claim and essentially asserted that the Boston Fire Department had the right -- actually, the legal obligation under Beecher -- to discriminate against white firefighters until the "right number" of selected minorities were employed by the Boston Fire Department.

          Court's Reasoning:  In a nutshell, Judge Stearns ruled that racial parity as defined in the 1974 Beecher decree had not yet been achieved and therefore racial quota hiring -- the 1 for 1 rule -- legally remained in full force and effect. 

          The rejected firefighter applicants (Quinn, et al) argued unsuccessfully that the Boston Fire Department already had achieved racial parity as defined in Beecher and that the proportion of minority firefighters employed in Boston as of October 2000 (the date of the white plaintiffs' denial of employment by Boston FD) actually exceeded the proportion of employment age minorities in Boston. (NOTE:  Boston FD cannot hire firefighters who are less than 19 years old).  This assertion by plaintiffs' is indisputably true according to U.S. Census figures if and only if the court had accepted plaintiffs' two key arguments: (1) That Beecher only applied to minorities 19 years and older (see above); and (2) That the racial formulas in Beecher only applied to the hiring of firefighters and not to fire department administrative staff and non-firefighting personnel.

          In his May 17, 2002 ruling Judge Stearn summarily rejected both of those arguments and ruled in favor of the City of Boston and intervenor NAACP for the continuation of racial hiring quotas and preferences in the Boston FD. 

          Subsequently, the Appeals Court (see below) overturned Stearns regarding plaintiffs' second argument, thereby accepting plaintiffs' second argument that the racial parity calculation as defined by Beecher did not apply to administrative and other non-firefighting personnel.  The Appeals Court, however, did also subsequently affirm Judge Stearns' ruling regarding plaintiffs' first argument -- that the racial parity computation mandated by Beecher only applied to minorities 19 years and older.

 

DOWNLOAD the District Court's May 17, 2002 ruling rejecting the plaintiffs' discrimination claim:

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2. March 27, 2003 - Appeals Court:  Reverses the District Court and finds that Boston Fire Department should have hired the white firefighter applicants without regard to their race.   Remands the decision to the District Court. [Return to Table]

 

United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit

Joseph E. Quinn, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,
v.
City of Boston, et al., Defendants, Appellees

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts

No. 02-1727

Summary, Comments and Analysis:  Selected excerpts from the Appeals Court decision appear below.  The Appeals Court reversed the District Court and found that the candidates (Quinn, et al) had been unfairly denied employment with the Boston Fire Department.  Among other things, this Court recognized that race-based remedies must be narrowly tailored, must be of the shortest possible duration, and must do the least amount of harm to innocent persons (the white applicants).
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          "In short, the nature of the issue calls out for immediate resolution: time is of the essence if for no other reason than that race-based hiring preferences inevitably shift some of the burden of remediation to innocent persons, Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Educ., 476 U.S. 267, 280-81 (1986) (plurality op.), and thus should not remain in place for any longer than necessary to alleviate the effects of past discrimination. See Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 308 (1978) (plurality op.) (cautioning that such "remedial action [must] . . . work the least harm possible")."    [Emphasis Added]

...

          "Because the litigation giving rise to the Beecher decree is of a different nature than the justification that the defendants now offer, the decree is a constitutionally insufficient vehicle for addressing that justification. See id. at 18; see also Wessmann, 160 F.3d at 802 ("The mere fact that an institution once was found to have practiced discrimination is insufficient, in and of itself, to satisfy a state actor's burden of producing the reliable evidence required to uphold race-based action.").

          "Finally, the City and the intervenor [NAACP] make an argument of last resort. They contend that their interpretation of the term "firefighter" is proper because they have assumed all along that the term embraced more than entry-level personnel. In the circumstances of this case, such a contention does not get them very far."    [Emphasis Added]

...

          "The court below [meaning the District Court in it's May 17, 2002 rejection of candidates' claim of discrimination] developed the factual record sufficiently to demonstrate that, when the City recruited the 2000 hiring class, blacks and Hispanics comprised approximately 40% of the firefighters within the BFD. At the same time, blacks and Hispanics constituted slightly over 38% of Boston's overall population. Quinn, 204 F. Supp. 2d at 162. Hence, parity had been achieved, and the City had become eligible for release from the strictures of the Beecher decree. See Beecher II, 504 F.2d at 1026-27.

          "Given these facts, the district court's error was not harmless.  After all, a public employer who consents to the use of race as a factor in order to palliate the lingering effects of past discrimination must maintain continuous oversight in order to ensure that the decree works the least possible harm to other innocent persons competing for employment. Bakke, 438 U.S. at 308.  Once parity has been achieved, the decree has served its legitimate purpose, and the justification for it has abated. See id. at 309.  From that point forward, the employer has no basis to continue preferring minorities. See id.; see also Mackin, 969 F.2d at 1276 ("An intrusion by a federal court into the affairs of local government should be kept to a bare minimum and not be allowed to continue after the violation has abated and its pernicious effects have been cured.").

          "We conclude, therefore, that the City's continued resort to race-based preferences from and after the time when parity was achieved fails the second prong of the strict scrutiny analysis. See Bakke, 438 U.S. at 309.  Thus, the City's adherence to the Beecher decree during the 2000 hiring cycle was unconstitutional.  Consistent with the foregoing, we reverse the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the City and direct the court to enter judgment in the Candidates' favor."    [Emphasis Added]

...

          "That does not mean, however, that the Candidates are entitled to no more than a handshake or a tip of the hat.  The fact remains that they have succeeded in showing that the City applied a consent decree, previously held to be constitutional, for too long.  The result was that the City infringed the Candidates' constitutional rights when it acted upon their applications for appointment to the BFD.  They should at least have had the opportunity to compete for the positions that they coveted free of the constraints imposed by the Beecher decree. See Bakke, 438 U.S. at 308.  Balancing these competing considerations, we hold that the BFD's decisions to appoint specific individuals during the 2000 hiring cycle were valid exercises of its responsibility to provide the citizens of Boston with a full complement of qualified firefighters. See Beecher I, 371 F. Supp. at 520.  Nevertheless, the application of the [Beecher] decree to the 2000 hiring cycle violated the Candidates' constitutional rights by depriving them of an equal opportunity to compete for positions on the BFD.  See Bakke, 403 U.S. at 308.  On remand, the district court must sort through this tangle and determine, in its sound discretion, the appropriate remedy for the Candidates' injury (excluding, however, any form of relief that would require dismissal of any provisionally or permanently appointed firefighter currently serving in the BFD)."     [Emphasis Added]

...

IV. CONCLUSION

          "The goal of the Beecher decree was to eliminate discriminatory practices in the recruitment and hiring of firefighters in communities subject to the Massachusetts Civil Service laws, and, relatedly, to remedy the effects of past discrimination in recruitment and hiring. Remediation has taken more than a quarter-century.  At long last, however, that objective has been achieved with respect to the BFD; parity has been reached between the percentage of minority firefighters in the BFD and the percentage of minorities in the City as a whole.

          "Although this is a significant landmark along the road to equality, we add a word of caution.  We are not Pollyannas, and we recognize that achieving parity at the firefighter level is not tantamount to saying that all is well in regard to racial and ethnic issues within the BFD as a whole.  To the extent that inequalities remain, however, they are not within the compass of either the Beecher decree or this litigation.  Nor will we reach out for them — issues of constitutional magnitude should not be the subject of speculation, but, rather, should be litigated fully by parties with standing to represent various pertinent points of view.  For today, we fulfill our responsibility by holding that the City's appointment of firefighters ought no longer be subject to the strictures of the Beecher decree.  We need go no further.

          "The judgment of the district court is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinionCosts are to be taxed in favor of the appellants."  [Emphasis in Original]

 

DOWNLOAD the complete Appeals Court March 27, 2003 ruling which overturned the lower court and which found in favor of plaintiffs' discrimination claim:

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3. August 24, 2003 - District Court:  Orders Boston Fire Department to hire the white firefighters at the earliest opportunity. [Return to Table]

 

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts

Joseph Quinn, Sean O'Brien, Robert Dillon, Joseph Sullivan and C. Roger Kendrick, Jr.
v.
City of Boston

Order on Plaintiffs' Renewed Motion for a Preliminary Injunction

No. 01-10598-RGS

Summary, Comments and Analysis:  The analysis and case excerpts are under construction as of Nov. 27, 2003.  Stay tuned.
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((Selected excerpts from the Court's Order))

 

DOWNLOAD the District Court's August 24, 2003 order that the Boston Fire Department must hire plaintiffs:

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quinn08-24-03-order.pdf
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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.