On May 21, 2007, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the City of New York, charging it with discriminatory hiring practices against black and Latino potential firefighters. The lawsuit is in response to the Center for Constitutional Rights’ two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charges of discrimination, one filed on behalf of the Vulcan Society in 2002, and the other filed in 2004 on behalf of a number of individual black and Latino candidates.
The case can be summed up in one statistic: when the first charge was filed in 2002, New York City's fire department was 2.9 percent black. The numbers have not improved 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.
The Department of Justice filed the lawsuit this morning after four years of investigation by both the EEOC and the DOJ confirmed the validity of CCR's complaints, which centered on the written examination used to rank candidates. 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.
Said CCR Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal, "The City has no one to blame for this lawsuit but itself. For five years, the City has refused to come to the negotiating table with the Vulcans, despite federal efforts to mediate. Its claim that the DOJ should back off because the numbers have improved is absurd. Five years after we filed our charges, the FDNY is still 2.9 percent black, and that is still by far the worst record of any major city in America."
New York City currently 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 is 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. CCR also plans on formally intervening in the lawsuit on behalf of the Vulcans and the class of affected black candidates.
Said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren, "For years the FDNY has used a discriminatory test. As a result, the doors to the firehouse have remained largely closed to African Americans and Latinos. It is time for that to change."
The test has selected out black candidates for many years. Most black applicants pass the test: 86 percent, compared to 97 percent of whites. But among the near-perfect scores, more than a third of white test takers score over 95 on the written exam, while only one in ten black test takers do.