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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rewarding Failure - The Other Side of The Same Coin

Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination by His Holiness, Barack Hussein Obama, to be the first female Hispanic justice of the Supreme Court of The United States has created quite a bit of controversy.

Sotomayor apparently agreed more with New Haven, Conn., government officials than with white and Hispanic firefighters who were denied earned promotions by the city on the basis of their race. The New Haven Fire Department administered a civil service exam to choose a new batch of lieutenants and captains. The city went so far as to hire an outside consultant to design the test in order to ensure that it was job-related and not racially biased.

But after the tests were administered, and the results came in, only whites and Hispanics scored high enough to earn promotions. So naturally, New Haven city officials decided to scrap the exam results and promote no one!

Here we have a case of punishing the successful, which although not exactly the same as rewarding failure, provides essentially the same end result. Those applicants who had excellent service records - and were diligent in their studies for the promotion examination(s) - were denied that which they rightfully deserved. Why? Because black firefighters failed to achieve qualifying scores for whatever reason. Is this the fault of the successful candidates? NO! Why should those who did exercise due diligence be penalized because others either didn't, or lacked the ability to understand or retain that which they studied?

Consider this - if you were a firefighter dispatched to a four-alarm, fully-engulfed inferno, would you rather be given your instructions by somebody who was guessing at the risks involved, or by somebody who had demonstrated the required experience and knowledge to minimize the risks to his/her subordinates while still getting the job done. How would the FD fair if they should - God forbid - have a 9-11-type situation in New Haven without fully qualified front line leadership?

Discrimination in the workplace should be avoided at all reasonable costs. However, whenever lives are at stake - and a firefighters' life is at stake any time he/she enters a burning structure - they deserve to have the best qualified people directing lifesaving operations. New Haven city officials demonstrated due diligence when they hired an outside consulting firm to design the test(s) in such a way that they were not "racially biased". The failure is not in the test itself, nor in those who successfully completed the test - the failure was in the lack of proper preparation on the part of those who did not generate passing scores. Preparation (studying) for any test is a personal responsibility. Obviously many assumed that personal responsibility... and many did not.

In the subsequent lawsuit (Ricci v. DeStefano), seventeen of the high-scoring whites and one high-scoring Hispanic sued the mayor, John DeStefano, and other city officials for denying them promotions solely because of their race. The case, now 5 years old, is to be heard by "The Supremes" (SCOTUS) this month, and Sotomayor's decision vindicated the City of New Haven. She essentially said "reverse discrimination is acceptable" - a legal decision which should bury her chances of becoming one of "The Supremes". But it won't... because Sotomayor is a philosphical doppelganger for Obama. On the plus side, Sotomayor's decisions have been overturned by SCOTUS 83% of the time. Does her appointment to SCOTUS sound like a "good fit" to you?

Suddenly our culture is not simply rewarding failure (re: GM, AIG, et al)... they are now punishing success! This attitude will result in "the system" extinguishing the motivation of the best qualified personnel to seek leadership positions within the New Haven FD, and perhaps even drive them to leave such an inequitable organization, and seek recognition (and the attendant financial compensation) elsewhere. SHAME ON NEW HAVEN!

This is a race in which I, personally, have no horse. I live on the other side of the country, where we can still have a reasonable level of confidence when we need to call the fire department. I just hate to see blatant violations of any citizen's civil rights - including whites, Hispanics, blacks, Chinese, Lithuanians, Martians, etc.. If the prevailing rules say, "Take the test, pass the test, get promoted", then the successful candidates should be promoted - based upon their scores - into however many available positions New Haven FD has! If they only have fifteen available positions, then the top fifteen scorers should get those jobs. The other successful candidates should have to wait for additional vacancies.

I could be completely wrong about this.. but my 14 years of experience as a USAF training manager and training superintendent tells me I'm not. You don't have to be an attorney to know when something stinks!

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