"We're filing to be a part of this lawsuit to protect our clients' interests and to finally force the City to come to the table with the Vulcan Society after years of refusing to," said CCR Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal.
CCR attorneys and the Vulcan Society also condemned today the decision of the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) - the union that is supposed to represent all New York City firefighters - to intervene on the side of the City. The UFA swore in an affidavit that it "has always opposed any attempt to minimize the significance of the written or physical portions of the Fire Department entrance exams" on the grounds that doing so would result in a "less qualified" firefighting force and "pose unnecessary dangers" to the safety of firefighters.
However, in the past, both in conversations with Congressman Charles Rangel, reported in a letter from Rangel to Mayor Bloomberg, and in statements made before the City Council, the union has stated it would support a pass/fail written examination and that it places more weight on the physical exam than the written exam.
"If the union really cared about safety, they would want a validated test that gave a proven measure of whether someone would be good on the job," said Vulcan Society President John Coombs. "In the past, the UFA sang a different tune and acknowledged the test didn't tell you whether a person would be a good firefighter, but when it came time to stand by their statements in the name of justice, they've shown their true color - white."
The DOJ lawsuit grew out of two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charges filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, one in 2002 on behalf of the Vulcan Society - the organization of Black firefighters - and one in 2005 on behalf of individual Black and Latino firefighters.
When the first charge was filed in 2002, New York City's fire department was 2.9 percent Black. The numbers have not changed at all since then, despite the fact that the City has had five years to try to remedy the problem. As of March 2007, the FDNY included 335 Black firefighters out of a total of approximately 11,500 firefighters, still barely more than 2.9 percent. New York City as a whole, by comparison, is 27 percent Black.
New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America - only 7.4 percent Black and Latino. Fifty-seven percent of Los Angeles' firefighters, 51 percent of Philadelphia's, and 40 percent of Boston's are people of color. The fire departments are 30 percent Black in Baltimore and 23 percent Black in Chicago.
"In a city that prides itself on its diversity, it's shameful that our fire department is still only three percent Black and not even five percent Latino," said CCR co-counsel Richard Levy of Levy Ratner, PC. "It's time that the fire department starts looking like the city that it serves."
The central issue in the case is whether the skills measured by the FDNY's written exam have any relationship to skills necessary to be a good firefighter - the EEOC and DOJ have concluded that they do not. CCR contends that there is no reason the City should be using this test to hire firefighters and that continuing to use it is against the law.
The DOJ and CCR are seeking relief for Black and Latino candidates who were not hired or whose hiring was delayed because of the use of the written tests given in 1999 and 2002, scores from which were used to rank candidates for hiring. Because this test, which has no valid relationship to job skills, has a disparate impact on Blacks and Latinos, its use by the FDNY is illegal under Title VII. Remedies will be decided by the court, but CCR believes they will include forcing the FDNY to hire affected Black and Latino candidates and give them back pay and retroactive seniority.
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 ccrjustice.org.