March 8, 2012, New York – Today, United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on the issue of back pay in a class action lawsuit that found the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) to have racially discriminatory hiring practices. The ruling found the City of New York liable for wage losses of $128,696,803. Broken down, the number is approximately $82 million for Black applicants and $42 million for Latino applicants who were either never hired or hired late off of the eligibility lists for the 1999 and 2002 firefighter exams. The gross total does not include compensatory damages and additional costs of medical coverage. The net amount paid by the City will be subject to reductions for the actual earning of each plaintiff during the period. Furthermore, Judge Garaufis ordered the FDNY to hire 186 Black firefighters and 107 Latino firefighters.
Said Captain Paul Washington, Past President of the Vulcan Society, “The Vulcan Society has been fighting for almost 75 years to open the doors of the Fire Department to Black firefighters. This is a great victory for those who have been excluded from serving our City because of their race. We hope the FDNY moves quickly to welcome the 293 Black and Latino applicants who are entitled to be hired, and we look forward to serving with them.”
In his order, Judge Garaufis wrote that “It has been in the City’s power to prevent or remedy the need for damages proceedings for a decade, and it has not done so,” and went on to call the required back pay and individual proceedings for every affected member of the class, “consequences of the City’s decision to ignore clear violations of federal law.”
Said Lead Counsel Richard Levy from Levy Ratner, P.C., “After decades of exclusion, this decision brings us one step closer to a Fire Department that will welcome all qualified applicants, of any race. As the court pointed out, the City could have avoided the immense cost of compensating victims of discrimination if it had changed its hiring practices 10 years ago when it learned that they were biased and illegal. Now, it is most important that all of those Black and Latino applicants who took the 1999 and 2002 firefighter exams come forward and make a claim to be able to participate in this judgment. We expect that claims forms will be sent out to them shortly.”
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, “We are gratified that this case has finally forced the Fire Department and the City to reckon with the NYFD’s decades-long legacy of discrimination and that it sends a strong message that access to the City’s best jobs must be open to all.”
The case, United States of America and Vulcan Society, Inc. v. City of New York, which found the FDNY examination was in violation of civil rights laws and the U.S. Constitution, was filed on behalf of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY, by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from Levy Ratner, P.C. and Scott + Scott, LLP.In earlier rulings the court found first, that the impact of the test was racially discriminatory, and second, that the discrimination was intentional, and called it “a persistent stain on the Fire Department’s record.”