NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the City of New York May 21, charging the testing system discriminates against Black and Latino applicants. At present, there are over 11,000 fire fighters and civilians on the city payroll, and only 3 percent are Black, while 4.5 percent are Latino, according to the lawsuit.
According to published reports, the DOJ’s suit, filed in the Eastern District of New York, cites the Fire Department of the City of New York’s (FDNY) use of two written examinations in the selection of fire fighter applicants violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they result in a disparate impact against Black and Latino applicants, and do not accurately determine whether an applicant will be able to perform the job of fire fighter.
Title VII prohibits employment practices and selection devices, such as the city’s use of the written examinations, which result in disparate impact on the basis of race or national origin, unless employers can prove that such practices and devices are “job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”
The city says the tests are fair and have been updated and that it has expanded efforts to recruit a more diverse fire department. Observers are saying that this is a “bombshell” of a lawsuit, which could lead to the hiring of hundreds of Black and Latino candidates who took the test as far back as 1999.
“The Justice Department is wrong and we’ll see them in court,” Mayor Micheal Bloomberg told reporters at City Hall, and stated that he was in touch personally with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on this issue.
FDNY Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta defended the department’s hiring practices and noted that in the past five years of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, “minority” hiring had “tripled.”
However, according to the Vulcan Society, co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and the association of Black fire fighters in NYC, during the last test cycle in 2000, “the recruitment efforts were ineffective, leaving Blacks accounting for only 10 percent of test takers (Blacks comprise 27 percent of the population).
The statement from the Commissioner Scoppetta brought a chuckle from former Vulcan president, Capt. Paul Washington.
“The numbers have not changed in the past five years; and we have been trying as a group to meet with the mayor for the past five years,” Mr. Washington told The Final Call, while standing on the steps of City Hall.
“The mayor and the commissioner want to talk about what they are doing now, but the truth is that they failed after 9/11, when there was a great hiring spree in place–they didn’t do it then–they aren’t doing it now,” Mr. Washington charged. On 9/11, 12 Black fire fighters lost their lives, while altogether over 300 fire fighters perished at “Ground Zero.”
“Right now, we are arguing that the fire department continues to make an un-fair test the sole determinate for who gets the job and who doesn’t; and we say that has to stop. So, yes–we will see you in court Mr. Bloomberg,” Mr. Washington said.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that the department does not spend any money on recruitment, so we have to self-recruit as a community,” John Coombs, president of the Vulcan Society said. “We have to inform our young men and women that the opportunity to become a fire fighter is right in their back yard. We are only three minutes away from most fire houses,” he said.
“Our community needs to know that this is a lucrative job,” commented Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron (D), the only politician attending the press conference. He said that there is a need to build a movement around the issue of Blacks getting jobs with the fire department. “We need to make a big issue over this,” he stressed.
Some observers say that there is a need for the Black community to raise its collective voice, because this is the second time the Justice Department had to step in against the FDNY.
In 1973, the Vulcan Society mounted a federal challenge based on the Equal Protection Clause against the Civil Service Commission of NYC. There was put into place a judicial consent order covering appointments. The order dictated a hiring ratio of three majority candidates to one minority candidate as a method for providing relief to the plaintiffs during the years of 1973-1977.
Andrew Beard served 25 years as a fire fighter, having been hired in 1977 under the first lawsuit. “This problem has been around for such a long time, it’s way over due that it gets fixed,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some noise, and we’re going to have to say, we are not taking this anymore,” Mr. Beard insisted.
“The city has no one to blame for the lawsuit but itself. For five years, the city has refused to come to the negotiating table with the Vulcans, despite federal efforts to mediate,” claims Shayana Kadidal, the senior attorney for the Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR), co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Its claim that the DOJ should back off because the numbers have improved is absurd. The number of Black fire fighters still stands at 2.9 percent, and that is still by far the worst record of any major city in America,” the CCR attorney stated.