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The city of Oakland, Calif., prevailed in a reverse discrimination suit challenging the city’s firefighter hiring practices, City Attorney John Russo announced Tuesday. Plaintiff Don Zottola, one of thousands who applied for a few openings in the department, alleged that an oral examination had a disparate effect on white men. A federal jury held that Zottola did not prove there was an alternative to the exam which would not have a disparate impact on white men. “The victory is significant for the city in that it validates and vindicates the entry-level firefighter hiring process,” Russo said in a statement. Zottola’s attorney could not be reached for comment. Both assistant city attorneys who handled the case were also out of the office Tuesday. The hiring practices of the Oakland Fire Department have been the subject of much litigation over the years. In 1990, a federal judge upheld a consent decree on the city, forcing it to integrate its ranks with more women and minorities. In recent years, the city has been hit with several reverse discrimination suits. Zottola passed the tests administered by the department and was eligible to be hired, but complained that his score on the important — but subjective — oral examination was unfairly low. In that test, applicants answer questions before a panel of interviewers. Zottola had included members of the panel in his suit, but they were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney. An earlier jury ruled against the city, holding that alternative tests were available which would not have a disparate impact on white males. The city challenged the verdict and won a new trial, which was held this month. Oakland’s hiring practices were the subject of the PBS documentary “Test of Courage,” which aired in September. More than 5,000 applicants competed for 50 jobs.

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