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More Minority Firefighters to Be Hired in Pomona

Times Staff Writer

The Fire Department has agreed to establish hiring goals to increase the number of minority firefighters as part of a settlement of a discrimination complaint filed with a federal agency by the Pomona Valley NAACP.

Under terms of the settlement, the Fire Department will set goals to “reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the city of Pomona” by the year 2005.

The department has also agreed to develop recruitment, reserve and orientation programs to establish a pool of eligible minority applicants, and revise its testing procedures according to guidelines set by the city.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Pomona Valley National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and four minorities. All complainants, except one who cannot be located, have signed the settlement. Officials said they expect to locate the missing complainant and expect no problems in obtaining his signature.

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The settlement is “the most aggressive affirmative action plan that will have been enacted in Los Angeles County,” said Christopher Brancart, attorney for the complainants.

“It’s aggressive because Pomona was so far behind,” Brancart said. “The city’s going to have to play catch-up. They have to entirely overhaul the method by which they test and recruit. It’s a Titanic effort.”

Fire Chief Thomas Fee called the settlement “excellent. The city and the parties . . . made an agreement that I think is a realistic and workable agreement.” Although the 17-year implementation period seems extensive, because of low employee turnover rates, “it’s not that long,” Fee said. “Of sworn employees, there’s a turnover rate of 3% a year. I would like to see this happen in a shorter time. But when you pick unrealistic goals they never get met.”

The complaint, filed July 19 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged that “there is a significant disparity between the racial and sexual composition of the (Fire) Department and that of Pomona” and that minorities, once hired, rarely received promotions.

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According to the 1980 census, Pomona’s racial composition is 46% white, 30% Latino and 18% black. Of the 110 Pomona firefighters, 12, or 11%, are Latino and 3, or 3%, are black, said Fee. The city has never had a female firefighter.

The complaint also alleged that the department had no “meaningful affirmative action plan” and that testing “departs significantly from standard tests employed by other major metropolitan fire departments.”

Brancart emphasized that the affirmative action plan does not require specific numbers of minorities to be hired but instead sets goals.

No quota is involved, he said. “There is nothing that compels (the department) to hire unqualified applicants. It’s an affirmative action plan through recruiting and testing,” Brancart said.

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Melvin White, one of the complainants who had applied to be a firefighter but failed the written test, said he was happy about the settlement and intends to apply again.

“I think it’s great. (the department) could have done something a long time ago; they weren’t pushed.”

The Fire Department agreed to suspend hiring--after it goes through its current list of 100 eligible applicants--until the affirmative action measures are in place. Fee hopes to have those guidelines in place by June.


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