May 14, 2013, New York – Today, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that, in light of the City’s “distressing pattern of limited FDNY minority hiring,” broad relief ordered by the district judge to end discrimination in the FDNY was “entirely warranted.” This includes an independent monitor in order to “oversee the FDNY’s long awaited progress toward ending discrimination.” Over a dissenting judge’s opinion, the Court also ruled that the plaintiffs’ intentional discrimination claim should proceed to a trial. The district court had found that the evidence of intentional discrimination was so overwhelming that no trial was necessary. The Court of Appeals also reinstated the plaintiffs’ claim that former FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta is individually liable for intentional discrimination.
“This decision reaffirms that discrimination is deep and wide in the FDNY, and confirms that the fire department needs independent oversight,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. “We are very pleased that the City will remain under the Court’s watch as it hires qualified new firefighters and provides back pay to those who were unlawfully excluded. That is an enormous victory in itself, and we are confident that we will also prevail at trial on the additional claim of intentional discrimination.”
The appeal is part of a federal class-action lawsuit against the FDNY, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Levy Ratner, P.C. on behalf of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters. The district court had ruled that the City’s testing and hiring practices had a discriminatory impact and also that the City had engaged in a pattern of intentional discrimination. The City does not dispute that the exams used from 1999 – 2008 were discriminatory and unlawful.
Said Paul Washington of the Vulcan Society, “We have been struggling for 40 years to end persistent discrimination in all parts of the FDNY. This ruling vindicates our efforts. The FDNY must finally open its doors to Black firefighters, so they can serve the city without constantly having to fight for equal treatment.”
Expressing “no doubt” that district court judge Nicholas Gaurafis was an “entirely fair-minded jurist” the Court nevertheless assigned the trial on the intentional discrimination claims to a new district court judge to avoid any appearance of partiality.
Said Richard Levy, of Levy Ratner, lead counsel for Plaintiffs, “This is a significant ruling that we hope will finally force the Fire Department to meaningfully end its long-standing discrimination against Blacks and Latinos. We also look forward to presenting voluminous evidence at trial of the FDNY’s pattern of intentional discrimination.”
Today’s ruling also denied the Vulcan’s request to reinstate Mayor Bloomberg as a defendant.
United States of America and Vulcan Society, Inc. v. City of New York
grew out of two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filings by the Center for Constitutional Rights, in 2002 and 2005, on behalf of the Vulcan Society. In 2007, the Department of Justice filed suit against the City of New York based on the EEOC findings. The Vulcan Society and several Black firefighter applicants intervened to join the suit as plaintiffs.
Levy Ratner, P.C. has advocated for unions and workers for more than 35 years in the areas of plaintiff’s employment law, union-side labor law, employee benefits, bankruptcy, campaign finance and election law.