Judge Says FDNY Exam Discriminates Against Minorities, Orders Hiring Freeze

By Della Hasselle on August 5, 2010 12:22pm 

A judge temporarily stopped the FDNY from hiring new firefighters after ruling the department's exam was discriminatory.
A judge temporarily stopped the FDNY from hiring new firefighters after ruling the department's exam was discriminatory.
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DNAinfo/Jim Scott

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — A New York federal judge has ordered the FDNY to implement a temporary hiring freeze, after ruling that a 2007 FDNY entrance exam discriminated against black and Hispanic test-takers.

The judge's order bans the city from offering jobs to any of the approximately 300 firefighters who passed the exam until the city can explain “why the need to appoint a few hundred rookie firefighters using an invalid test outweighs the need to avoid racial discrimination in municipal hiring,” Judge Nicolas Garaufis said in his Wednesday ruling, United States v. The Vulcan Society Inc. [pdf].

The soonest the ban could be lifted is Oct. 1, 2010, according to the Center for Constitutional rights, which filed the original lawsuit against the FDNY on behalf of the Vulcan society, a black firefighters group.

The city had been pushing to start hiring new firefighters as soon as today to compensate for what they called a diminished staff that left the department relying on overtime to make ends meet, the New York Times reported.

Garaufis previously ruled that two earlier FDNY exams illegally discriminated against minorities, and didn’t measure the abilities of entry-level firefighters.

Garaufis' ruling comes in response to the 2007 lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil rights advocacy group, on behalf of the Vulcan Society. The lawsuit grew out of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings from 2002 and 2005.

"The city has admitted that the test had a discriminatory impact on black and Latino applicants," attorney Richard Levy said in a press release Wednesday. “The city must do better.”

New York City lawyer Georgia Pestana spoke out against the ruling in a statement and said the city would be forced to pay about $2 million per month in overtime to make up for the inability to hire new staff, according to the Associated Press.

“We are extremely disappointed in today’s decision and are evaluating all legal options,” Pestana said in the release, adding that 38 percent of the applicants were minorities, the AP reported.

The fire department currently has around 11,000 members; nearly 22,000 applicants took the exam in question, the ruling said.