BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that sparked a 14-year battle for the Buffalo Fire Department.
The decision was the latest by U.S. District Judge John Curtin, who has been - because of discrimination complaints - overseeing hiring and promotions in Buffalo's fire and police departments for almost 40 years.
The federal lawsuit was initiated in 1998 as a class of African American firefighters--and former firefighters accused the city's fire department of racial discrimination. The group is called the "MOCHA" Society - Men of Color Help All.
MOCHA's 14-year-old lawsuit had two central issues: the first - black firefighters felt they were being passed over for promotions and the second - drug testing, which the group claimed harmed black firefighters more than whites. Many of the firefighters who tested positive were fired.
In February of 1998, MOCHA President Michael Brown said, "I am not, at this point, disputing the right of the department to test. All we're asking for is a fair test that actually identifies a problem that is humane and rehabilitative in its basis."
Judge Curtin dismissed the drug testing portion of MOCHA's lawsuit, ruling the group presented insufficient evidence to substantiate their claim of bias. MOCHA's attorney Harvey Sanders told News 4 they are disappointed by Judge Curtin's decision.
"We think there is evidence of discrimination in the manner in which the drug policy was administered. And we think that the court failed to address that evidence in the decision," he said.
Judge Curtin has already dismissed the promotions lawsuit and the black firefighters have appealed that. Ironically, white firefighters have been awarded $2 million in state court, accusing the city of denying their promotions.
Mayor Byron Brown said, "And we believe, at the end of the day, the city will prevail in these lawsuits and will create an environment that all our firefighters know they're valued and that they're very much needed for the protection and safety of the residents of this community."
Sanders said MOCHA Society members are still mulling over Judge Curtin's latest decision. They have 30 days to appeal.
Judge Curtin's oversight of the fire department was brought about by a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department.
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