Lawyers: FDNY needs monitoring of hiring practices

AP News
Posted: Aug 01, 2011 4:36 PM
Lawyers: FDNY needs monitoring of hiring practices

The Fire Department of New York must be monitored as it works to change its hiring practices after a federal judge ruled the nation's largest department discriminated against minorities, lawyers argued Monday.

Attorneys for the Vulcan Society, a black fraternal organization at the FDNY, also argued in court papers the department should step up recruitment efforts of black and Hispanic candidates, offer better test prep to help hopefuls prepare for the exam they must pass before becoming a firefighter, and reinstate its cadet program.

Judge Nicholas Garaufis has already decided the city's firefighter entrance exam discriminated against minorities. Garaufis heard testimony Monday that black candidates with a minor arrest record tended to be dropped from consideration to the FDNY, but white candidates with records were allowed on the job _ including a former police officer acquitted in the death of Amadou Diallo. Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, was killed in a hail of police bullets in 1999 and his death stoked racial tensions. Garaufis also heard testimony from a former FDNY official that nepotism was a major reason some firefighters were hired.

Dean Tow, the fire department's director of candidate investigation, testified he did not take race into consideration, and was not swayed by FDNY brass asking about potential candidates being investigated.

Lawyers for the city argued the investigators looking into the records of candidates were not being discriminatory against minorities, but rather were just doing their jobs.

In a city of 8 million where more than half the population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority, only 9 percent of the 11,200 uniformed firefighters are black or Hispanic.

The Vulcan Society complained about a decade ago, charging that the exam given to FDNY applicants was littered with SAT-like questions that didn't adequately test for firefighting skills. The exam is the weightiest factor in determining whether a candidate gets on a hiring list; a physical test and a few other components also play a role.

The U.S. Department of Justice eventually took up the case and filed a federal lawsuit, and Garaufis ruled in 2009 in favor of the Vulcan Society and the Justice Department. In a separate decision, the judge said the test was being used to discriminate intentionally and called it a "stain" on an otherwise sterling department.

No new firefighters are being hired while the new test is written and approved. The new exam is supposed to be given in January 2012.

Meanwhile, the city has made strides in recruiting minority candidates _ an effort it says was not brought on by the legal fight. Applicants no longer need college credits and can apply if they graduated from high school and held a full-time job for six months or served in the military.

And recently, Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano visited a black church to speak about the benefits of working for the department, part of a continuing effort to focus recruitment on churches and community centers in the city's minority areas.

Judge Garaufis will decide whether a court-appointed monitor is necessary.

Lawyers for the Vulcan Society are also arguing for compensation on behalf of potential firefighters who lost out based on the discriminatory test.

The fire safety cadet program was aimed at students interested in the FDNY, and was discontinued in 2002. Vulcan Society lawyers argue the majority of the minority hires in recent years came from the cadet program, which exposed potential candidates to the benefits of joining department who may not have otherwise known about it.