Firefighters Claim Reverse Discrimination


There have been various discrimination lawsuits emerging in the press lately, but not often one classified as a discrimination reversal. In New Haven, 19 white firefighters say that the only thing that treats them equally is the fire.

“The fire isn’t going to discriminate against a person whether he’s black, white or Hispanic” said Ben Vargas, a Hispanic firefighter from Connecticut. “It’s going to treat that person the same way.”

Vargas, along with 19 white firefighters, allege that their promotions were unfairly denied and that the city gave the preferred treatments to black firefighters.

A white firefighter, Matt Marcarelli, received the highest score on a promotion exam in 2003 and was the first before all else to become captain. When the city reviewed all of the test results, the curve made it so that the pass rate for black candidates was about half the corresponding rate for the white candidates. An immediate promotion was not obtained through the test scores by any of the black firefighters; therefore, the city threw out the test results.

“Every day I go to work I’ve got to pin this lieutenant’s badge on me, it reminds me I got screwed out of a captain’s badge because of the color of my skin. That gets to you,” said Marcarelli.

City officials understood the end result when they received the test scores. It was a no-win situation because if the city certified the test results, then they were positive that they would receive a lawsuit from black firefighters, but by throwing the scores out, they received one from the white firefighters.

New Haven’s black firefighters make up about one third of the total 221.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the arguments sometime this month and should result in a decision towards the end of June. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has remained perfectly clear that he does not approve of race being a qualifier for admissions into universities. This decision may change the entire hiring process for civil servants.

However, Victor Bolden, the city’s lawyer, agreed to throwing the test scores away. “It looked like the exam might have been discriminatory against some of the minority test takers,” he said. “And that was certainly a red flag for the city under the law.”

“If we lose this,” New Haven firefighter Octavius Dawson said, “the implication is catastrophic. I mean, where does it end. Not just with the fire department. Police department, education, who knows where it could end?”

“We want to be treated just as firefighters, whether we are men, women, white, African American, Hispanic. We want to be treated as firefighters, period.”


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