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Lingering NYFD Discrimination Suit Finally Settled by New Mayor DeBlasio; $98M in Back Pay on the Way

"Hey! What's he doing here!?! He's not White!!!"

“Hey! What’s he doing here!?! He’s not White!!!”

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The City of New York has agreed to pay $98 million in back pay to entry-level minority firefighters who claimed in court that institutional biases were used to keep them off the job.  The case, United States of America and Vulcan Society Inc. vs. City of New York, signals a sharp shift from Mayor Bloomberg to Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Bloomberg had been fighting the case in court for years.  

The city will now have a court appointed monitor administer the entrance exams as part of the settlement. In addition, the position of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the NYFD will be created and an influx of recruiters will be sent to Black and Latino neighborhoods.  

The Justice Department had originally sued the city in 2007 and a U.S. District Judge ruled that New York would have to pay $128 million and hire 293 black and latino applicants, provided they passed the entrance exams.  At the time of the lawsuit, 90 percent of the NYFD was white.  A first group of candidates joined the NYFD in 2013, but the financial side of the case had not been settled by former Mayor Bloomberg.

In a written statement, Mayor DeBlasio said, “This administration is fully committed to promoting diversity and equal access in every sector across our five boroughs, and this settlement will move New York City one step closer to this goal,” adding, “The brave men and women of the F.D.N.Y. work tirelessly to keep us safe from harm’s way — and our administration is committed to ensuring every New Yorker who seeks to take on this heroic role has a fair opportunity to join the ranks.”

The lawsuit claimed that the entrance exam had little to do with firefighting and focused instead on cognitive and reading skills.  It also claimed that the NYFD worked on a borderline good ol’ boy system in which families and friends of white firefighters were promoted through the ranks at the expense of minority candidates.  Throughout the application process white applicants were guided by the hand by white firefighters while minorities were left on their own.

According to the lawsuit:

“There has been one persistent stain on the Fire Department’s record,” the lawsuit said. “For decades, black and other minority firefighters have been severely underrepresented in the Department’s ranks.
“This pattern of under representation has remained essentially unchanged since at least the 1960s. While the city’s other uniformed services have made rapid progress integrating black members into their ranks, the Fire Department has stagnated and at times retrogressed.”

Among the plaintiffs was the Vulcan Society, a social society for black firefighters.  When reached for comment, Paul Washington, who was President of the Vulcan Society at the time the lawsuit was filed, responded: “Hopefully, after almost 150 years of blacks being excluded from the best uniformed job in the city, we are witnessing a turning point.”

Other members associated with the society viewed the settlement as a good start, not a long desired endgame.  Darius Charney, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who has worked with the Vulcan Society, told the New York Times:

We’ve had some really great court decisions in this case that required the city to change a lot of things.  But until those changes filter down into the firehouse and we see a change in the culture of the firehouse, a lot of this stuff is really not going to take hold.”


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