FDNY Written Exams Excluded Hundreds of Black and Hispanic Firefighters, Federal Judge Rules

John Marzulli, New York Daily News, July 22, 2009

The city used written exams that “unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color” from serving as firefighters, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The historic decision could recast the racial makeup of the predominantly white city Fire Department and cost taxpayers $20 million.

Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the Justice Department and a group of black firefighters have proved, without the need for a trial, that the city discriminated against blacks and Hispanics on two exams from 1999 to 2007.

Black and Hispanic applicants failed the two exams in disproportionate numbers to whites.

“These unlawful practices barred over a thousand additional black and Hispanic applicants from consideration for appointment as FDNY firefighters,” the judge wrote in his 93-page decision, “and unfairly delayed the appointment of hundreds of black and Hispanic firefighters.”

“These examinations . . . closed the doors of opportunity for public service to large segments of the city’s population.”

When the feds filed suit against the city in 2007, there were just 303 black firefighters and 605 Hispanics in a force of 8,998, according to court papers. The two exams which discriminated against minorities are no longer used by the FDNY.

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The plaintiffs are seeking the hiring and back pay for hundreds of prospective firefighters, a move that could cost the city an estimated $20 million, as well as retroactive seniority for the minorities.

Any settlement would also likely include some form of federal oversight of the FDNY’s hiring process.

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