Judge to Decide How City Should Recruit More Black Firefighters

Monday, August 01, 2011

Members of the FDNY Members of the FDNY (Al_HikesAZ/flickr)

A Brooklyn federal judge is set to begin hearing evidence Monday to decide what steps the city should take to recruit more black firefighters.

In the latest stage of a 4-year-old lawsuit, lawyers for the Vulcan Society — a fraternal society of black firefighters — will be asking the fire department to step up its game in recruiting more black firefighters.

Currently, about 3 percent of the FDNY is black, and Judge Nicholas Garaufis in the Eastern District of New York ruled last year that the fire department entrance exam discriminates against blacks.  

The city is redesigning that exam, but the Vulcan Society said that's not enough. They want to see more recruiters, more advertisements and more events in minority communities.  

"The best recruiting is firefighters themselves, and so since 93 percent of the firefighters are white, they are very effective at bringing their family members and friends into take the test," said Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Vulcan Society.  

Applying for a job with FDNY is a long, hard process, said Charney, so black firefighters need personal mentoring while they're applying.

In January 2010, Judge Garaufis found the city engaged in a pattern and practice of intentional discrimination against black firefighter candidates. 

He ruled that the written examinations the fire department used to screen and rank applicants between 1999 and 2007 "had discriminatory effects on certain minority applicants, including black applicants, and failed to test for relevant job skills."

The overarching legal issue Garaufis will now have to decide is how broad a legal remedy to grant black firefighters.  

The city said it is committed to increasing the diversity in the fire department and is willing to revamp its entrance exam, but argues that the court should be wary about micromanaging a local government operation by ordering specific recruiting activities.

"We're dealing with a 40-year pattern and practice of excluding black New Yorkers from the fire department," Charney said, "and it has had a really serious chilling effect on the black community. They, I think for good reason, don't believe that this is a job that's open to them."


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Comments [6]

Eric Sanders from New York

The issue and controversy is that court found that the examination was not reasonably related to the scope of the duties and responsibilities of firefighters. In addition to the other problems related to the screening process where Caucasians were passed because of their affiliations as opposed to better qualified African-Americans that were disqualified.

The Sanders Firm, P.C.

Sep. 01 2011 09:41 AM
Kevin from NYC

Jim's comment made me realize I completely missed the irony from a comment made by Vick. Vick suggested that until now the FDNY was constructing the exam to "achieve something specific". Clearly the comment was in line with the larger point of this contribution that the FDNY was writing the exam to exclude blacks (how a DCAS exam written to measure cognitive abilities can be constructed to exclude people with certain skin colors should be laughed at but let’s take it at face value)

If such efforts are not consistent with Equal opportunity how can writing the new exam to cater to those with lesser abilities and skill sets in an attempt to increase black hiring and to outwardly look to focus almost all tax dollars allocated for recruitment towards blacks and Hispanics be also consistent with equal opportunity?

Isn't this also writing the exam to "achieve something specific"?

It has been stated in many venues and in court documents that judge and the lawyers for the Vulcan Society insist the exams and the standards need to conform to the abilities and skill sets of the minorities that are the plaintiffs in the court case.

Isn't this as distasteful as the unsupported claims of Vick that the FDNY was writing exams to exclude blacks? (DCAS writes them) How is working to increase the membership of one group at the expense of all other groups consistent with anti-discrimination laws?

Why aren't we looking to hire and reward those who have worked hard to prepare for a competitive job market and bring the highest level of skills and abilities to the table for the salary offered?

This entire charade isn’t based in sound public policy. This is about the abdication of responsibility for individuals. This continuance of the patronizing and condescending suggestions towards blacks and Hispanics and their abilities for the purpose of gaining a political payout needs to end.

Aug. 01 2011 03:14 PM
Jim from NY

Why don't we just go by the scores that any one taking the text gets. Why worry about being fair if you are simply going to figure how to get more minorities in the fire service that caters to their abilities and not a standard!

Aug. 01 2011 02:35 PM
Kevin from NYC


I'll note you can't refute any of the obvious faults with Mr Charney's so called logical arguments.

Let's look a little deeper into the subject.

Furthermore your charges of the exam being written to "achieve something specific" is nothing less than baseless conjecture. Such claims weren't even made in the court case against the FDNY. Simply they argued that the numbers met the disparate impact threshold of the Federal Government. This has nothing to do with actual tangible racism...simply the inability to explain so called disparities in passing rates that exist in EVERY other aspect of society.

Some perspective is in order here.

Do you realize that the FDNY is not the most "unbalanced" city agency? There are 6 agencies that are more so according to your standard:

1. Department of Juvenile Justice 78% (over 3x as many blacks as their population in the city)
2. ACS 67% Black, 2.5x their representation in general population.
3. Department of Probation 65% black.
4. Department of Corrections 65 Black
5. Department of Homeless Services 64% Black
6. (Hello Irony have we met?)The Equal Employment Practices Commission is a whopping 63% black!

If you include the entire 15,000 employee FDNY the ratio of whites to their representation in the general population is 1.67:1, if you only look at uniformed fire, it is just 2:1.

By your standard Vick those other agencies are clearly run and administered by vile racists bent on excluding all others disproportionally! Now doesn't that seem absurd? I'd say there is nothing wrong with those numbers as those people who chose those careers, worked hard and achieved gainful employment with city government. Using your reasoning we'd have to believe they purposely are preventing Asians, Hispanics, Whites and Native Americans from being hired as well. Does this sit well with you?

The DCAS writes and administers the exams for the FDNY just as they do for ALL other city agencies. Civil Service laws were established to ensure that there is equal opportunity NOT equal results.

I and others view the performance of these people as individuals, not groups of people categorized by some arbitrary racial classification.

The people who apply themselves and work hard to succeed are those who get appointed as firefighters regardless of the color of their skin. Those try to assign blame for their personal failings in life become plaintiffs I suppose.

Aug. 01 2011 12:21 PM
Vick from Brooklyn

"Equal opportunity should be our city's policy, not racial preferences."

EXACTLY. So how do you explain the only 3% black firefighters? 4.5% Hispanic? in a city like New York, which is definitely NOT 92% white. FDNY has long been a bastion of racial exclusion, not equal opportunity. The claim that a civil service exam could *not* be biased is disingenuous. It doesn't come out of nowhere, the test is written by people who want to achieve something specific and so write the test accordingly. If what they want is to prevent a certain group of people, whether by race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, that can be done, and then the test givers can hide behind the fact that it's a test anyone is technically able to pass, even if the odds are actually against them doing so.

The fact that the original suit was brought by the Bush Justice Dept, not particularly known for their commitment to civil rights, tells you something. They could also be more open to gay men and women, but I suppose one fight at a time.

Aug. 01 2011 10:48 AM
Kevin from NYC

If Mr. Charney's theory were even remotely true. The number of blacks would have grown from the numbers they saw in the 1970s not shrank as those members clearly would have also brought their family and friends to take the test as well and their numbers would have grown exponentially. We can only conclude that this statement from him is a lie.

Also this disregards the fact that these are impartial civil service exams (similar to those given in all city agencies) that measure the performance of individuals not groups and it completely precludes any measure of the nepotism that Mr. Charney suggests is present in FDNY examinations which is administered by another city agency, DCAS, that is well represented with minorities.

Equal opportunity should be our city's policy, not racial preferences.

Aug. 01 2011 10:02 AM

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