Judge plans monitor in NY firefighter discrimination suit

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 05, 2011 6:13 PM
Judge plans monitor in NY firefighter discrimination suit

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A court-appointed monitor should keep tabs on the New York Fire Department for a decade to ensure it stamps out discriminatory hiring processes that disadvantaged blacks and Hispanics, a federal judge ordered on Wednesday.

The ruling by District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn federal court stems from a class action lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2007 accusing the city's fire department of racially discriminatory hiring practices.

Garaufis last week identified "areas of concern and room for improvement" in how the city recruits minority candidates for its fire department and on Wednesday followed up with a draft remedial order that calls on the city to reassess how it recruits, hires and employs black and Hispanic firefighters.

The plaintiffs, led by the Vulcan Society, a black firefighter fraternal group, and the defendant, New York City, will be able to argue any objections to the proposed order at an October 17 hearing. The judge will then finalize the order.

An attorney for the Vulcan Society, Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the ruling made clear that the city would have to go farther than just rewriting its firefighter exam to address nearly 40 years of discrimination.

"The key is, is the city in fact going to come up with the best practices and changes that the court is leaving in the city's discretion to come up with?" Charney said.

Garaufis' ruling on Wednesday sets a series of goals for the city, without prescribing specific hiring quotas, allowing it to consult with experts in order to put together a comprehensive and workable plan under court supervision.

Garaufis proposed appointing a monitor for a decade to keep tabs on the city's progress in achieving its goals.

New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said the city disagrees with the judge's opinion and would appeal.

Garaufis ruled in 2009 that the department's written exams used since 1999 to screen and rank applicants unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified black applicants. Then last year he ruled that the department engaged in "intentional discrimination" and the problem goes back at least 40 years.

Blacks make up about one quarter of the city's population. But at the time the original lawsuit was brought in 2007, black firefighters accounted for less than 4 percent of the department -- or 303 of the city's 8,998 firefighters.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Cynthia Osterman)