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Judge Orders Court-Appointed Monitor to Oversee FDNY Hiring

By Jill Colvin | October 6, 2011 7:40am
Fire trucks respond to the Waldorf Astoria hotel for a transformer fire on Aug. 4, 2011.
Fire trucks respond to the Waldorf Astoria hotel for a transformer fire on Aug. 4, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

CITY HALL — In a scathing decision that accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of silently endorsing fire department hiring practices that discriminated again Blacks and Hispanics, a federal court judge ordered the installation of a court-appointed monitor Wednesday to make sure the department’s diversity improves.

Despite recent recruitment efforts that have resulted in the most diverse group of applicants in the department’s history, United States District Judge Nichola Garaufis said the city has failed again and again to put an end to systematic discrimination against minority applicants.

"That this discrimination has been allowed to persist in New York City for so long is a shameful blight on the records of the six mayors of this city who failed to take responsibility,” he wrote.

Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Black firefighters held steady at just three percent, despite the fact that blacks constitute one quarter of the city’s population, he said.

Garaufis was particularly harsh on the Bloomberg administration, which he accused of "ignoring" evidence of discrimination that "was obvious to anyone else who looked.”

Despite repeated orders by the court to improve its practices, he said Bloomberg and the city’s last two fire commissioners “did nothing” to help the FDNY comply with equal employment policies.

“Today — Four years of litigation and two adverse liability rulings  later— the city still doesn’t get it,” he wrote, pointing to years of “blame-shifting and accountability-avoidance.”

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by the Vulcan Society, the black firefighters’ association, after it filed a series of complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission starting in 2002.

In 2010, Judge Garaufis ruled that the entrance exams used by the FDNY from 1999 to 2007 were blatantly discriminatory, and served to shut out potentially qualified minority applicants.

As a result of the ruling, the FDNY has had to work with a federal monitor and black firefighters to develop a new test, which is expected to be ready by January, 2012

According to Wednesday's new ruling, the city has until October 19 to submit a list of names for potential monitors, which would have the authority to perform independent investigations and audits on the FDNY's progress in hiring minority members.

He also calls for a series of steps to attract and retain minority candidates, including an independent review of recruitment efforts and the development of policies to prevent friends and family members from intervening in the hiring process, which favors white applicants, he said.

But Bloomberg slammed the ruling Wednesday, arguing that Fire Commissioners Sal Cassano and his predecessor, Nicholas Scoppetta, “have worked ceaselessly, tirelessly, to make sure that everybody, every community, knows what a great job this is,” he said.

He said the FDNY's most recent recruiting effort, which included attendance at more than 6,000 events, resulted in ”the most successful and most diverse recruitment campaign in the history of the FDNY," with more than half of 61,000 applicants being from minority groups.

“I think it’s fair to say no previous administration has done more or been as successful in attracting the diversity to the FDNY that I have,” he said.

Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the New York City Law Department said in a statement that the city intends to appeal the decision “as soon as the law allows.”