A new racial discrimination lawsuit against the Kansas City Fire Department is going to Federal Court. The case involves the interests of African-American firefighters in Kansas City who have been routinely passed up for promotions, despite the fact that these individuals appear to have the necessary qualifications for the job, the requisite experience, and the time served. Now, another case will be heard in front of a federal and not a state judge. The distinction is important.
Last year, the Missouri legislature passed the controversial SB 43 which essentially placed serious restrictions on employees looking to sue under the Missouri Human Rights Act. In addition to imposing damage caps on awards based on the size of the company being sued, the law also made the standard of proof higher in cases that involved racial discrimination. Instead of proving that racial discrimination was a contributing factor, plaintiffs must now prove that racial discrimination the determining factor.
However, SB 43 has no bearing on federal guidelines for determining these cases. That the case will be decided in Federal Court bodes well for the plaintiff.
A Pattern and Practice of Non-Promotion
Travis Yeargan was a 23-year veteran of the Kansas City Fire Department before he left in 2014 after being denied a promotion. He claims that KCFD hired less-qualified white applicants over him who had demonstrably less experience than he.
The fire department uses a scoring system with a multi-tiered testing process. Yeargan claims that he and other African-Americans have been routinely underscored in this process which has led to a smaller percentage of African-American captains than there are in the department at large.
While African-Americans have successfully filed racial discrimination lawsuits and won damages against the KCFD, Yeargans will need to prove his claim that he was underscored on the test. Since the last trial, the KCFD has implemented changes to their testing process that included the intention to outsource a key element to a private company that was a major bone of contention between African-Americans and the department administration.
Part of the process for hiring new captains involved a video interview. It was alleged at several of these trials that African-American candidates have been underscored on the video interview, which resulted in the process favoring white candidates. Afterward, the department said that they would hire a private company to conduct the interview portion of the test. That would supposedly ensure the fairness of the process. Now, with another lawsuit on the docket, this measure appears unlikely to have sufficed.
Handling Racial Discrimination in the Workplace
The case described above has many of the elements needed to prove it in a court of law. Firstly, there was a precedent of discrimination within the department and a history of passing up African-Americans for promotions. Lastly, African-Americans were underrepresented within the department’s hierarchy.
If you have been passed up for a promotion at your workplace, you do have legal recourse to sue for damages. Contact the employment attorneys of HKM Employment Law of Kansas City at 816.607.4691 or online and we will begin discussing your case immediately.