Cobb BOC to decide on settlement of DOJ charge of discrimination in fire department

A gold set of the scales of justice

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners will decide whether to enter a Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over a discrimination claim.

The item is on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.

An agreement on the decree would settle the DOJ’s contention that two of the Cobb County Fire Department’s hiring practices from 2016 to 2020 disparately impacted African American applicants.

The DOJ asserts that the Cobb County Fire Department’s use of credit checks as a screening device from 2016 to 2020 and its rank-order usage of the Accuplacer – a standardized test – in 2020 were not sufficiently job-related or consistent with business necessity.

According to the news release on the county website:

The DOJ found no evidence of intentional discrimination by the Fire Department, and the Department voluntarily ceased using both practices in 2020.  

“I have been in continuing communications with our county attorney’s office on this matter,” said Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Lisa Cupid. “In 2020, our fire department ceased the practices that led to the DOJ’s contentions. I look forward to resolving this with the DOJ to end any practices that could have unintended disparate or discriminatory impacts. Our goal is and should always to be inclusive in finding the best candidates to work in Cobb County.”

“We are pleased that the DOJ’s comprehensive review confirmed no intentional discrimination in our hiring practices and identified no issues with our current process,” said Fire Chief Bill Johnson. “We are dedicated to continuing our efforts to recruit, hire, and retain well-qualified firefighters to serve Cobb’s citizens.”  

The agenda item gives the following description of the issues at stake and the county’s response:

In November 2019, the DOJ initiated an investigation into the hiring practices of the CCFD. The investigation was completed in 2023. While the DOJ found no evidence of intentional discrimination, it contended that CCFD’s use of a credit check from 2016-2020 and its rank-order usage of the Accuplacer – a standardized test – in 2020 had a disparate impact on African-American firefighter applicants during that time period.

CCFD voluntarily ceased using the credit check as a screening device in 2020 and only utilized the Accuplacer as a rank-order device in 2020. The DOJ, however, intends to bring contested litigation against the County regarding CCFD’s 2016-2020 hiring practices if an amicable resolution cannot be reached.

Therefore, following extensive and lengthy negotiations with the DOJ, the parties seek to resolve the matter under the following terms:

  1. The County will pay $750,000.00 in monetary relief to be distributed on a pro rata basis to eligible claimants
    who were disqualified by the prior hiring practices.
  2. CCFD will make up to 16 priority hires, with limited retroactive seniority benefits, from the pool of eligible individuals. Each individual must meet minimum qualifications and other current requirements.

To effectuate the Consent Decree, it must be submitted to and approved by the federal district court.
Counsel will prepare appropriate documentation as presented in Executive Session on March 25, 2024.