The city of Norfolk yesterday agreed to hire more blacks and women in its police and fire departments following a Justice Department investigation of alleged discrimination in employment.
A consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, requires the city to hire qualified blacks in proportion to their numbers in the area labor force and to hire women in numbers reflecting their "interest in and ability to qualify for" the positions.
The city also is required to beef up its recruitment efforts.
City Attorney Philip Trapani, labeling the agreement a minor victory for the Justice Department, said the city over the years has attempted to hire qualified blacks and women but that they either are not interested or are not available in Norfolk.
The city has placed ads in newspapers, on bulletin boards and in shopping malls. Trapani said, but its efforts "are just not generating the qualified applicants the Justice Department thinks we should have." Perhaps there are qualified minorities in Washington, he added, "but you don't have them in Norfolk."
"That's hogwash," said George H. Banks, president of the Norfolk branch of the NAACP, in a separate interview. "The city because of its past practices brought on this investigation. They've put ads in the paper, but they've had qualified blacks in the city for many years."
Banks said the NAACP had complained to the Justice Department in the past about the alleged discrimination in hiring and said it would do so again. "We got a whole ball of wax we want to talk to the Justice Department about," Banks said.
According to a Justice Department complaint, also filed in court yesterday as part of the settlement, the city employs about 627 police officers, of which 37, or 5.9 percent, are black and 22, or 3.5 percent, are women.
Of 432 firefighters in the city, 18, or 4.2 per cents, are black and none are women, according to the complaint.
Under the decree, the city is required to hire blacks for 20 percent of its police officer vacancies and 30 percent of its firefighter openings each year for the next five years, according to the decree. The city also agreed to hire women for 20 percent of available police officer jobs for each of the next five years. Blacks constitute 20 percent and women 29 percent of the area labor force, according to the Justice Department.
"The agreement requires us, for instance, to hire three black men a year in the fire department and four black men a year in the police department," Trapani said. "This to me doesn't say that the city of Norfolk is in trouble."
The Justice Department is "interested in victories," Trapani said, "and I guess to them it is, but it's not a large one by a long shot."
By the terms of the decree, the city denied that it had discriminated against blacks and women and said that it agreed to the settlement because it has "both a moral and legal obligation to act at all times in the best interest of all citizens and employes." For that reason, the city said, it sought to avoid expensive litigation and did not want to risk discord among the large number of blacks in the city.
The Justice Department complaint alleged that the city "pursued and continues to pursue policies and practices that discriminate against blacks and women with respect to employment opportunities" within the fire and police departments by "failing and refusing to recruit and hire blacks on and equal basis with whites, failing or refusing to recruit and hire women on an equal basis with men" and using qualifications, tests and other measures which have a disproportionately adverse impact on blacks and women compared to whites.
The order stated that neither the police nor fire departments are required to hire people who are unqualified.