October 1, 2012, New York – Today, while a federal judge heard comments on the fairness of his most recent rulings in the landmark case on racial disparities in the New York City Fire Department’s hiring practices, hundreds gathered outside the Brooklyn courthouse to protest the integration of the department.
Said Captain Paul Washington, Past President of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY, “It has been 148 years of discrimination in the Fire Department. We must not let those trying to stand in the way of integration detract from the great advances being made. Finally, the New York City Fire Department’s hires will look like the city it serves.”
The Vulcan Society was joined at a press conference by the presidents of the FDNY Hispanic Society and the United Women Firefighters, who came out to support their colleagues’ efforts.
After successive rulings that the FDNY had implemented and maintained discriminatory hiring practices and that the discrimination had been intentional, United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis found the City of New York liable for wage losses of $128,696,803 for Black and Latino applicants subject to adjustments. He also granted retroactive seniority to those affected by the discrimination, and required the department to hire 186 Black firefighters and 107 Latino firefighters who pass a new test and meet all of the other requirements for the job. He called the required back pay and individual proceedings for the affected members of the class “consequences of the City’s decision to ignore clear violations of federal law.” Individual class members must pursue these remedies through a claims process, and today’s hearing provided an opportunity for those opposed to the remedies he had laid out in March to voice their complaints.
Eligible class members are by no means the only prospective firefighters to enter the Fire Department with retroactive seniority: individuals who previously have worked for the Police, Sanitation, and Corrections Departments and the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), all enter with additional seniority, as did the women who won their discrimination lawsuit against the FDNY in the 1980’s.
Said Lead Counsel Richard Levy from Levy Ratner, P.C., “The judge’s rulings could not have been more fair given the history of discrimination and the roadblocks to integration the City has put up at every turn. The City has had every opportunity to remedy the situation for years, and has fought progress every step of the way. Ever since George W. Bush’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the old exam to enter the department effectively discriminated against Black and Latino applicants, no one, not even the City, has claimed these rulings were wrong. We finally have a fair test that actually measures the qualifications needed for the job: once these past injustices have been wiped out we can finally move forward.”
For the last several months, an organization claiming to represent disgruntled white firefighters has been sending fax blasts to firehouses across the city. Said Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Darius Charney, “The demographics of the protestors today really serve to highlight the inequality in the department. There are a few people trying to stir up hostility in the firehouses, and they are creating a charged atmosphere that could lead to retaliation against the men and women who will be integrating the department. We urge them to realize the dangers of their actions, stand aside, and allow the New York City Fire Department to enter the 21st Century.”
Civil rights advocates noted that in a city that is 52 percent Black and Latino, the FDNY stubbornly remains 3 percent Black and 6 percent Latino, making it the least integrated fire department of any large city in the United States. By contrast, Chicago’s fire department is 30 percent Black and Latino; Boston’s 31 percent, Philadelphia’s 29 percent, Houston’s 38 percent, Denver’s 27 percent, and Los Angeles’ 44 percent.
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 under President George W. Bush and joined by the Vulcan Society, represented by theCenter for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from Levy Ratner, P.C. and Scott + Scott, LLP.