San Francisco Fire Department exam system on trial

The San Francisco Fire Department's promotional exam system is under scrutiny.
October 9, 2013 5:30:06 PM PDT
An unusual case is being heard in a San Francisco Superior Court. But a jury is being asked not to decide the fate of an individual, instead they are judging a process; the San Francisco Fire Department's promotional exam system is under scrutiny.

Last year, while San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White was pinning badges on a graduating class of new recruits, 15 veteran and retired firefighters were suing the department.

Their case is now being heard by a jury, which must decide if the firefighters were denied promotion to lieutenant because their test scores were altered.

Deputy Chief James Connell of Columbus, Ohio was one of the so-called raters brought in to grade the exams. He testified his ratings on those written tests were changed.

The plaintiffs' attorney says it may not have been done intentionally, but those kinds of alterations cost her clients promotions.

"We realized that there were so many errors and so many changes to scores and so many people who did not receive scores for what they actually did; that the examination itself, is invalid," said attorney Murlene Randle.

"And we looked at average performance and then below average performance," head of the exam unit Dave Johnson testified.

Johnson is accused of making changes to firefighters' scores and then getting rid of the answer sheets. Deputy city attorney Ruth Bond is defending him and the process.

"He corrected scores, he did not alter scores. He identified scoring errors that were made by some of the raters and corrected them," said Bond.

More than 700 firefighters took that specific lieutenant's exam back in 2008. The first the city offered in more than a decade.

"You've been doing it for a long time. You've been out in the field doing the job and then the test results came out, then basically you're, you're basically a failure," said plaintiff John Tuiasosopo.

The plaintiffs in the case are calling age discrimination. Their attorney argues those 40 years and older disproportionately flunked the test. The city says 60 percent of that age group passed.

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