Judges Orders Millions Paid in NYC Firefighter Bias Case

Rose Arce, CNN, March 8, 2012

A U.S. district judge ordered New York City to pay $128 million in to firefighters who allege the city used an entrance exam that deliberately sought to keep African-Americans and Latino Americans off the force. The judge also ordered the FDNY to hire 293 black and Latino applicants.

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The federal government had sued the city (United States of America and Vulcan Society Inc. vs. City of New York) alleging the city violated the U.S. Constitution and local civil rights laws by using an entrance exam intentionally designed to discriminate based on race.

The lawsuit alleged that the exams had little to do with firefighting and instead focused on cognitive and reading skills. Because of the hereditary nature of the fire department, white candidates were recruited and supported throughout the application process by family or neighborhood contacts and whites consistently passed while minority candidates failed.

“There has been one persistent stain on the Fire Department’s record,” the lawsuit said. “For decades, black and other minority firefighters have been severely underrepresented in the Department’s ranks.

“According to the most recent census data, black residents make up 25.6% of New York City’s population; when this case was filed in 2007, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4% of the Department’s force. In other words, in a city of over eight million people, and out of a force with 8,998 firefighters, there were only 303 black firefighters.

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Michael A. Cardozo, New York City’s corporation counsel, disputed the decision. “We believe the court’s latest opinion is erroneous and, in any event, is the first step in a lengthy process. As the court itself noted, any damages the city ultimately must pay will be reduced by the amount each member of the class earned. When all the proceedings have been completed, the damages, if any, that the city will have to pay will be far less than $128 million,” he said.

In court documents, the city said of the judge’s finding of bias: “Under the Court’s faulty analysis, any rational jury would necessarily find that the City deliberately used facially neutral exams to suppress black employment even as it conducted a targeted multi-million-dollar minority recruitment campaign, enlisted Columbia University to study methods of maximizing FDNY diversity, increased the minority composition of its other uniformed services, engaged an expert with a mandate to design an improved exam, and devised a panoply of other devices to diversify the FDNY’s ranks.”

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