Black NJ Fire Officers File Suit Claiming Promotional Process is Discriminatory

Two Montclair, New Jersey fire officers have filed suit claiming their promotional system disadvantages Black firefighters. Captain Steven Marshalleck and Lieutenant Makkari Sampson filed suit in Essex County Superior Court naming Montclair Township; the Township manager, fire chief, and former HR director; Promotional Prep LLC; and an outside consultant.

According to Montclaire Local, the suit claims the department has a history of discrimination, and more recent changes to the promotional system serve to further burden Black firefighters. A copy of the complaint is not available, but quoting from the Montclaire Patch the complaint alleges:

  • The Montclair defendants replaced the existing promotional process with one that diminished the value of seniority – a factor that favored Black firefighters.
  • The Montclair defendants added a highly subjective job performance evaluation section to the promotion process, which permitted them, having exclusive control over the scoring of that section, to favor white firefighters over their Black counterparts.
  • The Montclair defendants scored the disciplinary section of the examination in violation of their own rubric to disfavor plaintiffs, who were penalized for minor infractions while white firefighters who had engaged in far more serious and more recent misconduct were not penalized.
  • The Montclair defendants conspired with defendant Promotional Prep … to provide test preparation services only to white firefighters preparing for promotional examinations, while also increasing the impact of the written test by raising the threshold required to move forward to subsequent sections of the exams.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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