MANHATTAN — The city has agreed to pay $98 million to settle a longstanding legal battle with a group of black firefighters and the U.S. Department of Justice who accused the FDNY of discriminatory hiring practices, lawyers on both sides announced Tuesday.
Members of the Vulcan Society of Black Firefighters have been fighting since 2007, accompanied by the Department of Justice, alleging that the New York City Fire Department's recruiting and hiring process systematically shut out black firefighters.
The settlement will provide back pay, including $6 million for lost medical benefits, to about 1,500 black and Hispanic former FDNY applicants and current firefighters, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the Vulcans and the DOJ.
“We are pleased with the settlement, and we are optimistic that this represents a first step by the de Blasio administration to ensure that fair and equal hiring practices become the standard in the FDNY from this day forward,” said Vulcan Society President John Coombs.
The settlement will provide funds to aspiring firefighters who took two civil service exams in 1999 and 2002 and were either not hired or hired late, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.The monies will include back pay, fringe benefits and interest to the test takers, the mayor's office added.
“Today, this administration has taken a historic step forward with a settlement that will rectify past harm and increase diversity in FDNY’s ranks," the city's Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said in a statement. "This settlement will not only compensate those affected by the FDNY’s civil service exams, but also ensure the FDNY has the capacity, support and structures in place to build a stronger and more diverse department in the years to come.”
In addition to the funds, the city will take several steps to increase diversity within the fire department. Among the steps include improved efforts to recruit black and Hispanic firefighters, creating a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position within the FDNY and increasing transparency regarding medical standards for applicants, according to the mayor's office.
The number of firefighters identifying as minority has increased from eight percent in 2002 to sixteen percent in 2013, according to the FNDY.
This past December's graduating class was also their most diverse in history, with 62 percent of graduates identifying as minorities — 24 percent black and 36 percent Hispanic — the fire department added.
“We’re pleased this case has been settled and look forward to our next firefighter exam when we hope to attract even more people of color than the 19,000 who took the last test in 2012,” Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said in a statement.