White Conn. firefighters seek back pay, damages

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 2:49 PM

A group of white New Haven firefighters who won a discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court are seeking back pay, damages and legal fees.

The high court ruled in June that New Haven officials violated white firefighters' civil rights when they threw out 2003 test results in which too few minorities did well. Fourteen firefighters who sued were promoted this month to lieutenant and captain.

Karen Torre, the firefighters' attorney, filed papers last week in U.S. District Court in New Haven arguing the firefighters are entitled to back pay with interest for long-overdue promotions, several categories of damages and attorney fees.

The firefighters were subject to "the humiliation and economic hardship of prolonged career stagnancy in a rancorous atmosphere fostered by raw racial divides," she said.

Damages will be established at trial, she said.

City officials said the Supreme Court ruling is limited to relief for 14 plaintiffs who would have been promoted if the 2003 tests had been certified.

Other firefighters who sued and were not promoted reserve their right to challenge the city's position that they were not entitled to promotions but are to damages, Torre said.

Bernard Jacques, an employment attorney in Hartford, said the claims could wind up costing New Haven $1 million or more. Cities typically have insurance to cover such losses, he said.

"It's going to be tough on the city," Jacques said. "Even a settlement is going to be a large number."