November 27, 2007, New York – Today, the City of New York released preliminary data from its January 2007 firefighter written exam and claimed that the percentage of Black and Latino firefighters who passed the test went up from the previous 2002 exam.
Center for Constitutional Rights attorneys and members of the Vulcan Society – who are currently party to a Department of Justice lawsuit suing the City for the FDNY’s discriminatory hiring practices – say that the City has doctored numbers in the past, that they need to see the data themselves to know what the real impact of the scores on hiring is likely to be, and that the improvement still does not come close to reflecting the population of New York City.
The central issue in CCR’s lawsuit against the City 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 number of minorities in the hiring pool is still barely half the number in the population of the city. Moreover, we have no reason to think that this exam has any more relationship to being a good firefighter than the previous tests. The department is still three percent Black – just over a tenth of what it should be. With numbers that bad to start with, the City can't content itself with making piecemeal progress,” said CCR Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal.
Kadidal continued, “We’re still looking to the courts for justice in the case before them and for the City to own up to the scope of the problem after more than three decades.”
In April 2007, the Department of Justice filed a case against the City, charging it with discriminatory hiring practices revolving around the use of the written exam; this 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. In July 2007, CCR and the Vulcan Society formally joined the DOJ lawsuit.
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.
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.