Black Firefighters and City of New York Settle 7-year Lawsuit on Racially Discriminatory Hiring Practices

March 18, 2014, New York – Members of the Vulcan Society of Black Firefighters and their attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Levy Ratner, P.C. announced today that a settlement agreement was reached with the City of New York and the U.S. Department of Justice in the class action lawsuit Vulcans Society v. City of New York. The City has agreed to broad injunctive relief and back pay. 

Said Vulcan Society President John Coombs, “We are pleased with the settlement, and we are optimistic that this represents a first step by the de Blasio administration to ensure that fair and equal hiring practices become the standard in the FDNY from this day forward.”
The Vulcan Society and seven individual plaintiffs in a seven-year lawsuit charging discrimination in the hiring and treatment of black applicants to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) have settled their claims against the City of New York.
In addition to broad injunctive relief ordered by the court, which included a new firefighter entrance exam and the appointment of a monitor to oversee all steps in the firefighter recruiting and hiring process, the settlement provides for new diversity initiatives in the department, specific recruiting goals and other relief that is critical to breaking down barriers to black participation in the FDNY. The department will create an executive staff position of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer who will report to the Fire Commissioner, and the CDIO will in turn appoint a full-time Diversity Advocate from the uniformed force.
A class of black firefighter applicants, which includes some current FDNY incumbents, will be eligible to receive back pay totaling $98 million, which includes more than $6 million for lost medical benefits, and claimants will have an opportunity to prove additional compensatory damages. 

Lead Counsel, Richard Levy of Levy Ratner P.C. said, “Tremendous credit goes to the Vulcan Society’s President John Coombs, Past President Captain Paul Washington and Lieutenant Michael Marshall for their amazing persistence in fighting to bring racial equality to the FDNY’s hiring system.   The current settlement will bring historic changes to the department for years to come, with new recruiting goals, a new executive diversity officer, a minority advocate and the continued oversight of a court appointed monitor.” 
Said Darius Charney, senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, “We are pleased that after 40 years, the City of New York has finally stopped denying it has a problem in the FDNY. With this settlement, the City has agreed to take the steps the Vulcans have said all along are necessary to fix that problem.”
Said Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society, “We're very pleased to come to an agreement with the City over an issue that should have been settled years ago.  Hopefully, after almost 150 years of Blacks being excluded from the best uniformed job in the city, we are witnessing a turning point.  All New Yorkers should take notice that without struggle there is no progress.”     
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 by the Department of Justice and joined by the Vulcan Society, the organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY, represented by theCenter for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from Levy Ratner, P.C. and Scott + Scott, LLP.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

March 18, 2014