In New York, on February 24, 2005, attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of three African-American applicants to the FDNY. The charge follows another filed two weeks ago by an African-American firefighter who found a noose placed in his gear and opens a third front against the Fire Department’s discriminatory hiring practices, joining a previous CCR charge on behalf of the Vulcan Society (the organization of African-American firefighters) and the U.S. Department of Justice investigation announced earlier this month.
African-Americans make up over 25% of the labor pool in New York but make up only 2.9% of the Fire Department. Every professional fire department in every major city in America is more diverse than the New York City Fire Department, and the numbers in New York have been getting worse, not better, since the early 1980’s. The major hurdle for most minority applicants is the written examination. After a careful, 2-year-long investigation of the charge CCR filed in August 2002 for the Vulcan Society, the EEOC concluded that the test discriminates against African-Americans because there is no relationship between the skills the test measures and the skills it takes to be a good firefighter.
The individuals filing today’s charge all passed the written exam administered in December 2002 but scored too low to expect to be hired within the four-year period during which their test results remain valid. CCR filed the charge on behalf of the three candidates as individuals and also as representatives of the class of all similarly affected African-Americans. The vast class of individual claimants will have damages claims against the City which CCR hopes will be large enough to make the city take the diversity issue seriously and finally come to the negotiating table.
CCR attorney Shayana Kadidal said, “The fact that in a city like New York the fire department is only 2.9% African-American is appalling. The written test discriminates against African-Americans, and has no bearing on whether an applicant will become a good firefighter. The City has been using this illegal and discriminatory test for over 30 years, so it has a lot to rectify. They are going to have to go above and beyond in their efforts to make things right.”
Paul Washington, President of the Vulcan Society, said, “I’ve always said the numbers tell the whole story. We are 2.9% of the department and the numbers have been getting worse for 20 years. If 2.9% doesn’t wake the City up to the problem, maybe the prospect of millions of dollars in damages will.”
Two of the individuals filing charges today have chosen to remain anonymous for the time being. The third, Marcus Haywood, said “I’m not just looking for a job for myself. I am hoping this will make a difference for other people and their families in the future.”