September 16, 2002 at 6:32 PM EST - Updated July 10 at 7:56 PM
CLEVELAND (AP) - A federal judge has blocked the hiring of five firefighters by an overwhelmingly white community locked in a lengthy court battle with a civil rights group.
The firefighters were due to start work Monday in the Cleveland suburb of Parma.
U.S. District Judge Kate O'Malley blocked the hiring Friday evening, pending a hearing on Thursday on a request by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for a restraining order.
The NAACP said it has reached an impasse with the city over the validity of civil service tests.
Last month, Parma police bypassed a high-scoring black recruit in favor of three other candidates, none of whom is black. The city safety director said psychological and polygraph tests disqualified the applicant.
The NAACP wants the applicant to be either hired or retested. The organization is challenging the legality of civil service lists for police and fire departments in Parma, Cleveland's largest suburb with 85,000 people.
NAACP lawyers said the testing predated an Aug. 2 consent decree and may violate the agreement, which ended a 12-year legal fight that cost the city $500,000.
The court-supervised decree governs the city's hiring practices and came as part of a settlement of the legal fight between the city and the NAACP.
City Law Director Tim Dobeck said the NAACP indicated it would accept the hiring of the firefighters if Parma would make a sixth hire, a minority, from the applicant list of an adjacent city, probably Cleveland.
"We refused," Dobeck said.
NAACP lawyer David Rose said the hiring of firefighters should not have been scheduled amid the legal dispute. It was the second postponement of the firefighter hirings.
The NAACP sued the suburb in 1990, saying Parma discriminated against blacks in hiring for city jobs. The 550-person city payroll includes two blacks: a police officer and a clerical worker. Parma is 95 percent white.
The 100-member police force also includes two women.
The 98-man fire department has no blacks or females, and no blacks or women were among the 14 candidates on a list provided by the city's civil service department.
Dobeck said last month that he believed the city's hiring list was valid because the city tried to attract minority applicants.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)