Texas Legal Foundation / Emergency Responders for Equality (ERFE),
Contact: David Rogers
Phone: (512) 923-6188
High ranking Austin Fire officials file discrimination lawsuit, charge racial politics have been elevated over public safety.
Emergency Responders for Equality (ERFE), Austin Fire Marshall Don Smith, and Battalion Chief Greg Nye have filed a formal complaint with the EEOC regarding illegal racial considerations in promotions in the Austin Fire Department, according to their lawyer, David Rogers of the Texas Legal Foundation.
The Austin Fire Department is one of the finest fire organizations in the nation. This did not occur by happenstance. Approximately one-hundred highly qualified officers ranked Captain or above, who have spent their careers building this organization, are the very officers who were not afforded an equal opportunity to compete for top-level management positions. They were subsequently passed over in order to accommodate a race-based political agenda. It is both an ethical concern and a safety issue for a majority of the city’s firefighters.
This case is similar to the New Haven firefighter case correctly decided by the Supreme Court this summer – this case is a matter of what is right under the law. Race cannot be used as a basis for making employment decisions and as Justice Kennedy said in the New Haven case “No individual should face workplace discrimination based on race”.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was enacted to ensure that individuals are not discriminated against because of their race, color, sex, religion, or national origin.
At the same time Battalion Chief Smith was advised that he was being named Fire Marshal, he was told that the Fire Marshal position and responsibilities of that title were being demoted from Assistant Chief in order to accommodate raced-based promotions. Chief Nye was also passed aside for these race-based promotions, as were more than 150 more senior and more qualified individuals. There is very strong evidence indicating a pattern of behavior from the Austin Fire Department of promoting based on race at the highest levels of the organization. Promotions based on race instead of qualifications are hurtful to any profession. Appointing junior, under-qualified Lieutenants, who are by the Fire Chief’s own admission “green”, to top level management positions in a public safety organization, is hurtful to the firefighters and dangerous to the citizens. Additionally, promoting a city employee based on race to a position (Assistant Chief of Professional Services), newly created specifically in order to accommodate this promotion, places a irresponsible financial burden on the citizens of Austin. These questionable actions have created a severe morale problem among firefighters which is destroying the very environment which made this Fire Department exemplary. When citizens receive inferior service in the emergency management business – lives are at risk. The safety of the citizens of Austin should not be at the mercy of divisive racial politics.
"Promotions based on race instead of personal qualification are hurtful to any profession. Under qualified leaders are especially dangerous to a public safety organization. If citizens receive inferior service in the emergency management business – lives are at risk," said Smith’s attorney, David Rogers of the Texas Legal Foundation.
Emergency Responders for Equality is an organization of firefighters, police officers, and EMS personnel along with concerned citizens committed to fighting discrimination, bias, undue political influence and race-based employment decisions in our critical emergency service agencies. Emergency Responders for Equality seeks to ensure fairness in initial hiring, promotions and appointments in our fire, police and EMS departments by elevating qualifications and merit above divisive racial politics.
Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief Don Smith has over a quarter-century of experience keeping Austinites safe from fire and other emergencies. For more than a decade, he has served at the highest levels of the Austin Fire Department Fire Marshal’s office. Twice now he has been passed over for less-experienced minority candidates with little or no prior experience in the Fire Marshal’s office for the position of Assistant Chief in charge of the Fire Marshal’s office. Battalion Chief Nye joined the Austin Fire Department in 1980, and has been a Battalion Chief or acting Division Chief for fifteen years. Nye most recently served as Chief Arson Investigator, and has been passed over in favor of less qualified minorities on at least three separate occasions.
Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr and City Councilman Martinez have made it clear—racial diversity at the top ranks of the Austin Fire Department is the most important thing—and qualification and public safety are second-rate concerns for the Austin City Government.
For more information about this lawsuit, visit Emergency Responders for Equality’s website, ERFE.org.