AFD Hiring: Smoke or Fire?

Add the EEOC to the parties weighing in on firefighter hiring

The unfolding story of allegedly discriminatory hiring practices within the Austin Fire Depart­ment – already the subject of a possible consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice – took another turn Feb. 20, as the Austin Firefighters Association announced that it had been informed by the federal Equal Employ­ment Opportunity Com­mis­sion that the union is now being accused of playing a role in hiring discrimination.

"The [AFA] is surprised and confused by the EEOC's allegation that our union organization is guilty of discrimination based on the results of the 2012 [AFD] cadet hiring process," union President Bob Nicks said in a press release. Though the union declined to release the EEOC's allegation letter, Nicks said the union maintains that it played no part in the alleged discrimination. The AFA "is not the employer who was doing the hiring" – that would be the city – "nor is there anything within the requirements of the labor agreement that could have created the adverse impact," he said.

At issue are the results of the 2012 hiring process, which involved the city's administrative decision to shorten the amount of time potential cadets were given to complete written testing; cutting it from two-and-a-half to two hours may have invalidated the test, and more specifically had an adverse impact on African-American and Hispanic candidates.

The DOJ has been looking into the city's fire-cadet hiring process since last spring, in an effort to determine whether the city has violated federal anti-discrimination law in its hiring practices. AFD is not alone among U.S. fire departments that have struggled with hiring both minority and female cadets. If the city is found to have violated federal law, it may be offered an opportunity to avoid litigation by signing on to a consent decree that would define how hiring would be conducted for a specified number of years.

As we reported Feb. 7 ("Is the City Trying to Bust the Firefighters Union?"), the city appeared poised to do just that, despite the fact that just days before, the union had received confirmation that a retooled hiring practice employed in 2013, using a different test, had in fact produced the most diverse candidate pool the city has yet seen. A Council agenda item that would have approved the yet to be negotiated decree was postponed to today (Thursday, Feb. 27), but at press time, it appears it will be pulled again, to give more time for discussion (and perhaps agreement) among the union, city, DOJ, and EEOC.

Nicks said the union has been "working very hard behind the scenes" to encourage the four groups to get together to mediate the situation in an effort to avoid a decree or litigation. "That's what we've wanted from the beginning," he said.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin Fire Department
Where’s the Fire, Chief?
Where’s the Fire, Chief?
City announces finalists to succeed Rhoda Mae Kerr

Mike Clark-Madison, Oct. 19, 2018

Finding a New Fire Chief
Finding a New Fire Chief
Search to replace Rhoda Mae Kerr trudges on

Nina Hernandez, Oct. 12, 2018

More Austin Firefighters Association
City, Fire Union Reach Contract Agreement
City, Fire Union Reach Contract Agreement
Membership to vote on terms this month

Nina Hernandez, Sept. 15, 2017

Firefighters and City Can't Strike a Deal
Firefighters and City Can't Strike a Deal
At an impasse yet again over collective bargaining

Nina Hernandez, Aug. 18, 2017

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014


Austin Firefighters Association, AFA, Austin Fire Department, AFD, U.S. Department of Justice, DOJ, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, Bob Nicks, union, hiring discrimination, diversity, consent decree, Civil Rights Act

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle