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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The city of New Orleans administered a written test to applicants seeking to become firefighters for the New Orleans Fire Department. The plaintiffs took this aptitude test in 1991 and their scores were recorded in a document the court referred to as the “1991 Register.” Under the procedure in place at the time, if an applicant received a passing score on the test, administrators then required the applicant to pass further screening, such as an agility test, drug screening and a medical background check, before being placed on a list of recruits eligible for hire. The city hired seven classes of recruits from the 1991 Register and accompanying eligibility lists over the next few years. The city hired class one on March 22, 1992, but no plaintiff was a member of this class. The city, however, hired each plaintiff at some point between Sept. 8, 1992 (class two) and Aug. 21, 1995 (class seven). While NOFD previously hired applicants from the eligibility lists top down from the highest score on the test, administrators subjected the 1991 applicants to a policy in which NOFD would hire one African American for every Caucasian. This resulted in African Americans getting hired before Caucasians who had higher test scores. Two suits instituted in 1996 found that this policy violated the applicants’ 14th Amendment right to equal protection. On May 10, 1999, a different set of plaintiffs brought suit to recover back pay and lost benefits attributable to their hiring delays. The district court, after trial, found that the hiring policy delayed most of the plaintiffs’ eventual hires and awarded those members back pay, but denied damages for lost pension benefits. HOLDING:Affirmed. The central issue, the court stated, is whether the equal protection suits, filed years before the pension suit, should have put plaintiffs on notice of their causes of action, thereby triggering the one-year statute of limitations and making the pension suit untimely. The discriminatory acts in this case, the court stated, took place between 1992 and 1995, when the plaintiffs were denied hiring preference based on race. This suit was not filed until 1999, well beyond the one-year limitations period. Once it is established that the statutory limitations period has run, the court stated that the plaintiffs must prove that some exception to the limitation applies. The district court, the court stated, found after trial that “the plaintiffs neither knew nor should have known of their causes of action before [NOFD] Superintendent William J. McCrossen’s deposition on May 13, 1998, thus suspending the statute of limitations until that day.” The court could not conclude that the plaintiffs “should have known about or should have investigated potential discriminatory hiring claims.” Even if the plaintiffs had knowledge of the equal protection litigation, the court stated, such knowledge would not necessarily raise serious suspicions among plaintiffs who NOFD actually hired from the 1991 Register. One reasonable conclusion, the court stated, the plaintiffs could have drawn before the conclusion of the equal protection litigation is that because they were hired, they were not subject to discrimination. Thus, the court held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the statute of limitations did not begin to run for the plaintiffs before May 13, 1998. In addition, the court found that the district court appropriately dismissed 13 plaintiffs who failed to show that they suffered from an adverse employment decision. Finally, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to award monetary damages for the delay in accumulating and receiving pension benefits caused by NOFD’s discriminatory hiring practices. The dollar amount of damages attributable to the delayed pension benefits is extremely speculative, the court stated, and given the uncertainty of whether the pensions will ever vest, the district court was within its discretion to find that awarding such damages would go beyond making the plaintiffs whole. OPINION:Benavides, J.; Reavley, Jolly and Benavides, J.J.

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