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Judge Rules FDNY Intentionally Discriminated Against Blacks

By DNAinfo Staff on January 14, 2010 9:01am  | Updated on January 14, 2010 8:59am

The FDNY has been intentionally shutting out black applicants using a discriminatory entrance exam, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The FDNY has been intentionally shutting out black applicants using a discriminatory entrance exam, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
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MANHATTAN — The FDNY has intentionally discriminated against blacks for decades by using entrance exams designed to keep them out of the fire department, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In a decision that supports longstanding accusations against the department, Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the fire department’s exclusionary tests purposely suppressed the number of black firefighters, casting a “persistent stain” on the otherwise heroic agency.

“These examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified black applicants from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters," Garaufis wrote in his decision.

"Today, the court holds that New York City’s use of these examinations constitutes a pattern and practice of intentional discrimination against blacks.”

Garaufis had ruled in July that the written exams were discriminatory, but stopped short of deciding whether the fire department intended them to have that effect.

There are currently about 350 black firefighters among the 11,500 in the department — a number far short of the African-American presence in other uniformed services, the judge found.

“While the city’s other uniformed services have made rapid progress integrating black members into their ranks, the Fire Department has stagnated and at times retrogressed,” Garaufis wrote.

The lawsuit was brought by the Vulcan Society, the black firefighters’ association, after they filed a series of complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission starting in 2002. The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights division, has also sued the city on similar grounds.

The judge tossed out claims against both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta on the grounds that they couldn’t be sued individually for work they did in their professional capacity.

The ruling opens the door for the judge to order both sides to come up with a remediation plan about hiring practices, and will force the city to open their doors to legal oversight going forward.

The city's Law Department approved of the judge’s decision to dismiss some of the claims, but said Wednesday it "vehemently disagrees with the balance" of Wednesday’s decision.

"Contrary to the court's opinion, it is the city's view that there is simply no evidence that the city ever intended to discriminate against black applicants," city lawyer Georgia Pestana said in a statement.