Judge Orders Boston to Hire Four White Firefighters

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Four white men passed over for firefighting jobs in favor of minority candidates who scored lower on civil service tests must be hired as soon as possible, a federal judge has ruled.

The men had sued the Boston Fire Department (search) for discrimination. They must also be awarded back pay and seniority they would have earned since October 2000, the date they were denied employment, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns (search) ordered Monday.

A fifth plaintiff who was hired last October also will get a pay raise under the ruling.

"I think hopefully we're just going back to normal, the way it was meant to be, so that now they are just hiring the best person, regardless of race or color," said Harold Lichten, the attorney for all five men.

The city is exploring its options, officials said.

"The city has just received this decision," said Seth Gitell, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino (search). "The city's lawyers are reviewing it and considering its implications for future hiring."

The judge's decision applies only to the men who sued and was not intended to establish a precedent for other white applicants who were passed over in October 2000. Joseph Quinn already has been hired; the other plaintiffs were Sean O'Brien; Robert Dillon; Joseph Sullivan, and C. Roger Kendrick Jr.

An NAACP lawyer questioned the decision.

"If a return to normal means a return to the way the Boston Fire Department conducted its hiring prior to the mid-1970s, it will be a disaster for any applicants of color in this city," Toni Wolfman said.

The judge at first rejected the civil rights suit filed in April 2001, the first to challenge the department's affirmative action hiring policy since 1989, when it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Stearns, ruling in March that the city has achieved its goal of racial parity among entry-level firefighters, and no longer needed to abide by a nearly 30-year-old court order that departments across the state have used as a model to correct racial imbalance.