August 4, 2010, New York – Today, a federal court judge found that the City of New York’s 2007 FDNY entrance exam (Exam 6019) unfairly discriminated against Black and Latino test-takers and prohibited the City from using its results for hiring purposes. This ruling comes on the heels of the judge’s earlier rulings that the City’s two previous FDNY entrance exams were similarly racially discriminatory. In today’s opinion, Judge Garaufis ordered that the City wait to hire entry-level firefighters until October 1, 2010 and only after the City explains “why the need to appoint a few hundred rookie firefighters using an invalid test outweighs the need to avoid racial discrimination in municipal hiring.” The Court noted that the City of New York had cancelled its last entry-level class in 2009 and that the Mayoral administration had in fact advocated closing fire houses and reducing staffing in recent months.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit that grew out of two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filings by the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel Levy Ratner, PC, on behalf of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal order of Black firefighters, in 2002 and 2005. The Department of Justice filed suit against the City of New York based on the EEOC findings in 2007, and the Vulcan Society intervened to join the suit as plaintiffs. The lawsuit charges the Fire Department of New York with discriminatory hiring practices, and Judge Garaufis has issued several scathing opinions in agreement over the course of the litigation.
Said attorney Richard Levy, “The Court today has affirmed what the Vulcan Society has known and has been saying for several years – that the 2007 firefighter test is an unfair barrier to hiring qualified Black and Latino firefighters. The City has admitted that the test had a discriminatory impact on black and Latino applicants. It also admits that it cannot prove that the test measured any of the specific skills a person needs to succeed as a firefighter. The City must do better. There are hundreds of qualified black and Latino applicants who want to serve and protect all New Yorkers. They should be given a fair opportunity to do so.”
Said CCR Attorney Anjana Samant, “A central issue in the case has been the City’s forty-odd years of resistance to eliminating race discrimination in hiring at the FDNY and devising an entrance exam that identifies the most-qualified candidates, regardless of race. Despite multiple complaints by city officials, an adverse finding by the EEOC, and yet another adverse ruling by a federal court, the City continues to defend a flawed and discriminatory firefighter hiring system. It’s time that the City finally acknowledge its errors and engage in meaningful discussions with the Vulcan Society and the Department of Justice to devise a better, fairer way to conduct its hiring.”
Because Exam 6019 has no valid relationship to job skills and has a disparate impact on Blacks and Latinos, its use by the FDNY is illegal under Title VII. Judge Garaufis has ordered that hearings be held as soon as possible so that the City can meet any legitimate hiring needs it may have before it crafts a new exam, as he had ordered in prior rulings.
New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America. While the combined black and Hispanic population of New York City is over half the total population of the city, black and Hispanic firefighters comprise roughly 4 percent and 7 percent of the FDNY, respectively. More than half of Los Angeles and Philadelphia’s firefighters, and 40 percent of Boston’s are people of color. The fire departments are approximately one third black in Baltimore and one quarter percent black in Chicago.
Visit CCR’s case page for more information on United States of America and the Vulcans Society, Inc. v. City of New York.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org.
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.
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.