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NYC Settles Class Discrimination Lawsuit against FDNY

In a shift from the Bloomberg Administration, New York City has agreed to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed against the Fire Department. The suit, initially filed in 2007, alleges that the city’s written examinations given to entry-level applicants had an unlawful disparate impact on black and Hispanic applicants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. While the Bloomberg administration had vehemently fought the charges, the De Blasio Administration has taken a different approach. “The brave men and women of the F.D.N.Y. work tirelessly to keep us safe from harm’s way — and our administration is committed to ensuring every New Yorker who seeks to take on this heroic role has a fair opportunity to join the ranks.”

As part of the settlement, the Fire Department will engage a “chief of diversity and inclusion” and a “diversity advocate” in order to better monitor hiring practices. The city will pay $98 million in back pay and will commit to ensuring that the pool of exam takers will be proportional to the overall labor market.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires a charge of disparate impact cause “a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and the respondent fails to demonstrate that the challenged practice is job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1). A showing that the practice had a business necessity can serve as a defense, but not against intentional discrimination—a major point of contention in the proceedings.

According to a 2007 order appointing a court monitor, in 1999, there was a pass rate for whites of 91.6% and a pass rate of blacks of only 61%. United States v. The City of New York, 07-cv-2067, 9 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). In 2001, only 3.8% of the force was black and 3.2% was Latino. In the same order, Judge Nicholas Garaufis sharply criticized then-mayor Michael Bloomberg. “[t]he clear evidence of disparate impact that Mayor Bloomberg and his senior leadership chose to ignore was obvious to anyone else who looked. Instead of facing hard facts and asking hard questions…the Bloomberg Administration dug in and fought back.” The city was vocal in its opposition and at one point Mayor Bloomberg denied knowing what the word “responsible” meant. However, the city has now requested that Judge Garaufis be appointed to supervise the implementation of the settlement agreement.

According to the New York Times, the percentage of minorities in the Fire Department has grown from 8% in 2002 to 16% in 2013.  Currently, 60% of newly-installed probationary firefighters are minorities.  Even before settlement was agreed upon, a new exam had been designed by current head of the SEC, Mary Jo White. While the settlement may cause taxpayers to wince, substantial changes to the FDNY hiring process are on the way.

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