U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey Grants the NAACP’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Recently, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey granted the NAACP’s motion for summary judgment in a disparate impact case challenging the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue’s (NHRFR) use of residency requirements for hiring. The Court’s order grants plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. It enjoins the “NHRFR from hiring candidates from its current Department of Personnel (DOP) list.” Currently, of the NHRFR’s 323 full time employees, only two are African American. Moreover, NHRFR is enjoined “from commencing hiring until it obtains a list from the DOP that expands the residency to include residents of Hudson, Essex and Union counties.”

NHRFR requires all qualified applicants to live in one of its five municipalities. The municipalities include Guttenberg, North Bergen, Union, Weehawken and West New York. These municipalities are less than 4 percent African American. As a result of the residency requirement, residents of neighboring areas with large African American populations are ineligible for employment with the NHRFR. Such neighboring areas include Newark, East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City and Orange, New Jersey.

In its ruling, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ and the defendant’s expert reports established that the NHRFR’s residency requirement has a disparate impact upon African Americans. The court held that there was no “evidence supporting the NHRFR’s assertion that the residency requirement is necessary to the successful performance of the firefighter job functions”. Finally, the Court rejected the intervenor-defendants’ Ricci v. DeStefano defense argument that the NHRFR would be liable for disparate treatment if the NHRFR expanded the residency requirement to the Tri-county area.

“This is major victory for racial and ethnic diversity,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “In the 21st century, our fire departments should reflect the diversity of this great nation.”

“It is fundamentally unfair and irrational for municipalities to maintain residency requirements that have a disparate impact on African Americans and other minority groups,” said NAACP Interim General Counsel Laura D. Blackburne. “The court reached the right decision.”

“The court’s ruling will give qualified African Americans from neighboring cities the opportunity to join the NHRFR,” said NAACP New Jersey State Conference President James Harris. “This is a major achievement for the civil rights community.”

David Rose of Rose & Rose, P.C. in Washington, D.C., Eugene F. Temmler of Rabner, Allcorn, Baumgart & Ben-Asher, P.C. in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, and the NAACP Legal Department in Baltimore, Maryland represent plaintiffs NAACP, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, Newark Branch NAACP, Allen Wallace, Lamara Wapples and Altarik White.

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