MIAMI The Justice Department sued the city of Jacksonville, Florida, on Monday, claiming its use of written tests to determine promotions in the city's fire department discriminates against African-Americans.
The lawsuit followed a more than two-year investigation examining Jacksonville's record of promoting African-Americans for the ranks of lieutenant, captain, district chief and engineer dating back to 2004.
It came after a separate lawsuit filed last year by two dozen Jacksonville firefighters challenging the city's promotional process. In the lawsuit, the firefighters alleged union officials unfairly shared exam questions with white workers but not with black workers ahead of the test.
"This complaint should send a clear message to all public employers that employment practices that have the effect of excluding qualified candidates on account of race will not be tolerated," Thomas Perez, a U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Jacksonville mayor's office declined to comment.
The complaint by the Justice Department alleges the exams are "not job related for the positions in question."
The complaint said use of the tests "has resulted in a disparate impact upon black candidates" because African-Americans pass the examinations at significantly lower rates than white candidates.
The Justice Department said black employees who do pass the tests rarely are promoted since their scores are generally lower than white workers.
"At best, these tests measure only a slice of what is necessary to be a supervisor, but they stand in the way of qualified African-Americans advancing in the fire department," the statement said.
The lawsuit also named the local firefighter's union, the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters Local 122, as a defendant since it negotiates the terms of promotion tests with the city.
No union official could be immediately reached for comment.
Black firefighters, city and union officials in Jacksonville have been in court mediation since 2009 working to resolve decades of courtroom battles over African-American participation in the city's fire department.
(Reporting By Kevin Gray; Editing by Sandra Maler)