January 13, 2010, New York, NY – Today, United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit charging the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) with intentionally racially discriminatory hiring practices. The case, which proved the FDNY examination was in violation of civil rights laws, was filed on behalf of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from Levy Ratner, P.C. and Scott + Scott, LLP. An earlier win in the case on July 22, 2009, ruled that the impact of the test was racially discriminatory, but today’s summary ruling of intentional discrimination is far more rare.
In today’s ruling, Judge Garaufis found the City of New York had excluded Blacks and Hispanics from the Fire Department for decades, since the 1960’s, and called it “a persistent stain on the Fire Department’s record.”
Said Richard Levy of Levy Ratner, P.C., CCR cooperating attorney and lead counsel in the case, “This decision represents a major victory for all minority citizens of New York City who have been denied employment because of their race, color or national origin. But it is a particular vindication for the Vulcan Society, the Black organization of firefighters that has been waging this struggle for equality for more than forty years. The City has kept blinders tightly in place to avoid recognizing and dealing with a problem of discrimination that has been shockingly clear to all citizens of New York. The Fire Department has been a virtually all White club since its inception many decades ago and no one in City government has seen fit to address the issue. Now it must.”
Said CCR Attorney Anjana Samant, “This is an historic victory that will force the City to be accountable for decades of unchecked intentional discrimination in the FDNY. While people have been clamoring for firehouses to be more representative of their communities for years, this ruling demands that the City clean up its mess and fashion programs and remedies to correct the past effects of its discriminatory hiring process.”
Said Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society, “We’re glad to see the justice system verify what we’ve known for the longest time, that the Fire Department is hostile to hiring blacks. We hope this means 145 years of racism in the New York City Fire Dept will now come to an end.”
As of October 2007, black and Hispanic firefighters comprised only 3.4 and 6.7 percent of the FDNY, respectively. The combined black and Hispanic population of New York City comprises over half its total population. New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America; 57 percent of Los Angeles, 51 percent of Philadelphia and 40 percent of Boston firefighters are people of color. At the same time, the New York City Police Department has recruited a force that is roughly fifty percent (50%) minority and fully represents the demographics of the City.
In April 2009, plaintiffs asked Judge Garaufis to grant summary judgment in favor of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY, and three individual candidates in light of the overwhelming evidence supporting their claims, thus eliminating the need for a trial. CCR, Levy Ratner, and Scott + Scott formally filed to intervene on behalf of the Vulcan Society in the Department of Justice's lawsuit against the City of New York for discriminatory hiring practices in July 2007. The lawsuit grew out of two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filings by CCR on behalf of the Vulcan Society in 2002 and 2005. The intervention allowed the Vulcan Society to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff. To read the ruling or for more information on the case, see CCR's Vulcan Society case page.
Levy Ratner, P.C. has advocated for unions and workers for more than 35 years in the areas of union-side labor law, employee benefits, bankruptcy, campaign finance, election law and plaintiffs’ employment law.
Watch CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren and Vulcan Society's Paul Washington on NY1's segment on this landmark ruling (this link will end your session at www.CCRjustice.org)
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.