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City Must Hire Minorities Shut Out of FDNY and Pay Damages, Judge Rules

By DNAinfo Staff on January 21, 2010 7:19pm  | Updated on January 22, 2010 8:11am

There are approximately 350 black firefighters currently serving among the 11,500 in the FDNY.
There are approximately 350 black firefighters currently serving among the 11,500 in the FDNY.
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By Nicole Bode

DNAinfo Associate Editor

MANHATTAN — A federal judge has ruled that the city should correct years of bias in the FDNY by hiring hundreds of black and Latino applicants who have missed out on jobs because of discriminatory tests.

The city should not only give those applicants back pay dating to the time they could have been hired, but should also compensate thousands of minority applicants who won't ever become firefighters with damages, ruled US District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

Garaufis' sweeping decision cuts to the heart of a longstanding debate over allegations of racism in the fire department, which he ruled in a bombshell decision last week was the result of years of intentional discrimination by the city.

The decision covers approximately 7,400 minority applicants who took the entrance exams between 1999 and 2002, according to the New York Times.

It also gives a boost to the nearly 300 applicants who passed the exam, but are yet to be hired by the department.

Garaufis ruled that those applicants must be given preferential hiring status and get retroactive seniority benefits.

“These forms of relief are simple in concept, but will be complex in execution,” Garaufis said in his decision, according to the Times.

“Achieving these basic aims will require ongoing oversight, attention to myriad details and resolution of disputes among the parties.”

There are approximately 350 black firefighters currently serving among the 11,500 in the FDNY – a number far short of the percent who work in the city’s other uniformed services.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been vehemently opposed to the judge's decision, blaming the shortage of black firefighters on the lack of applicants.

The city’s Law Department took issue with the decision Thursday.

“The city is reviewing its options but will always place in the forefront not only the need to obey the rule of law, but the need to insure that only qualified individuals become New York City firefighters to properly protect the New York City's inhabitants," Georgia Pestana, the law department's chief of labor and employment law, said in a statement.

The decision did not specify the amount of compensation that failed applicants could be eligible for, a law department spokeswoman said.

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.