NEW YORK — An appeals court has overturned a 2010 ruling by a Brooklyn judge that the FDNY intentionally discriminated against blacks and other minorities with entrance exams designed to keep them from becoming firefighters, city officials announced Tuesday.
"We never thought that we were deliberately discriminating…Number two, I can tell you that [former FDNY Commissioner] Nick Scoppetta worked eight years trying to attract a broader group of applicants to take the job," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Wednesday press conference.
The judges with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals called for a trial on the claims of discrimination at the FDNY, rejecting Judge Nicholas Garaufis' earlier ruling that entrance exams unfairly excluded blacks.
However, the judges also found a "distressing pattern of limited FDNY minority hiring" and recommended that some of the court-ordered monitoring of the FDNY's hiring process remain in place.
"The fact that the fire department is under constant supervision and control by the federal court has been very, very substantially altered," city Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo said in a conference call with reporters. "We have saved eight or nine years of having to hire expensive consultants and very onerous record-keeping. It will save the city a substantial amount of money."
Cardozo clarified that Tuesday's decision relates only to the remedies required by the previous injunction and does not change the city's liability for nearly $130 million in damages stemming from the 1999 and 2003 firefighter tests.
"The city has regained control of the New York City fire department, which is the critical point," said Cardozo, who added the city plans to appeal the damages.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the initial suit on behalf of the Vulcan Society organization of black firefighters, praised Tuesday's ruling.
"This decision reaffirms that discrimination is deep and wide in the FDNY, and confirms that the fire department needs independent oversight," Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy said in a statement. "We are very pleased that the city will remain under the court’s watch as it hires qualified new firefighters and provides back pay to those who were unlawfully excluded."
At the time of Garaufis' 2010 ruling, there were about 350 black firefighters among the 11,500 in the department, a number far short of the black presence in other uniformed services, the judge said. Garaufis also cited the fact that black firefighters comprised just 3 percent of the FDNY between 2001 and 2007, even though blacks constituted one-quarter of the city’s population.
The Vulcan Society initially filed a series of complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission starting in 2002.
Cardozo said the fire department's recent efforts toward diversity will be highlighted Friday when the latest class of 280 EMTs and paramedics is promoted, 40 percent of whom are minorities and women.
Bloomberg agreed that the test needs to be revamped and offered one idea for how to do it.
"I personally always thought you should have at least just a basic IQ test, because I want the smartest person coming through that door when either he or she does not know what's on the other side. But we never thought we violated the law and it was gratifying to see the court agree with us," he said Wednesday.