Nine rejected firefighter applicants sue Anchorage municipality

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Nine applicants rejected by the Anchorage Fire Department have filed suit, claiming they were improperly denied jobs because the municipality used a psychological screener who posed invasive questions that had nothing to do with firefighter qualifications.

The plaintiffs allege they were rejected based on a 900-question behavior and psychological test plus an oral exam administered by a California contractor. The interviews by Law Enforcement Psychological Services illegally probed into the recruits' sex lives, religious and political beliefs, they contend.

The complaint, filed earlier this month in Anchorage Superior Court, states eight of the plaintiffs have experience at volunteer or forestry fire departments. The ninth has a firefighter certification. All applied to the department last year.

The nine applicants successfully passed tests demonstrating their firefighting knowledge and physical agility, according to their complaint. They also completed interviews with various officials including Fire Chief John Fullenwider. They received conditional offers of employment from the department but were later denied jobs because of the psychological tests, the complaint says.

The city and the company have not responded to the suit.

Karen Hanson, municipal employment manager, said Law Enforcement Psychological Services is in the second year of a contract to screen Anchorage fire and police recruits. The firm also provided the service for the city in earlier years.

''We've been very happy with their services,'' she said.

Among the allegations of improper or illegal screening techniques:

During oral screening, interview Richard Lenhart asked applicant Craig Worrell detailed questions about the past and present sex lives of Worrell and his fiancee.

''Lenhart laughed at Worrell's answer about his fiancee's sex life, then commented on Worrell's fiancee's sexual experience,'' according to the complaint. ''Lenhart then asked Worrell whether his sex life was good.''

Worrell's screening occurred the afternoon of Sept. 11, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

''Worrell expressed sadness about the firefighters lost in the line of duty in New York,'' according to the complaint. ''In reply, Lenhart said, you have to give the terrorists credit for wiping out as many people as possible.'''

Two applicants were asked if they owned guns. The suit said Lenhart criticized them for gun ownership, including one applicant because he also had children in the house.

Wayne Ross, the plaintiffs' attorney, said he tried for six months to negotiate a settlement but the municipality refused.

The rejected applicants are asking for monetary damages, another chance to become a firefighter and re-examination by another psychologist.



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