Bloomberg Says City Will Appeal Judge’s Ruling that FDNY Could Owe $128M in Back-Pay

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city will appeal a federal judge’s ruling, finding that the FDNY could owe up to $128 million in back-pay to minority applicants who either weren’t hired, or were hired late off two entrance exams deemed discriminatory.

Bloomberg made his comments on his weekly WOR-AM radio show Friday, a day after Judge Nicholas Garaufis issued his decision.

The mayor said he didn’t agree with the decision, and defended the FDNY’s recruiting efforts under the past two fire commissioners.

“There are more people that have taken the test that want to join the fire department, more diverse,” he said. “We have to have a test that tests the skills that are required to be a firefighter, and not look at anything else.”

The mayor also said the test should be based on a combination of physical strength and intelligence.

“If I’m there, and a firefighter’s coming in to save my life, I want to have the smartest person we can find,” he said.

Garaufis’ ruling affects black and Latino applicants who took the 1999 or 2002 exams. Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is urging those applicants to come forward to see if they're eligible for any benefits.

"The judgment in the claims is going to take into account what they would have been earning at the time, whether they received compensation since then, and the result would be offset by what they made," he said.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is representing the Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters that brought the discrimination suit against the FDNY. Warren said the judge has also ordered the city to hire 186 black applicants, and 107 Latino applicants.

Paul Washington, a captain in the FDNY and the Vulcan's past president, said he's pleased with the latest ruling.

"The only shame is that all of this could have been avoided, if the mayor had listened to us 10 years ago, when we sat down with him, and told him of the discrimination that was going on in the fire department," he said.

The FDNY is offering its first entrance exam in several years this month, after revamping the test.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Michael Cardozo, the city's corporation counsel, called the latest court ruling "erroneous," and "the first step in a lengthy process."

"When all the proceedings have been completed, the damages, if any, that the city will have to pay will be far less than the $128 million," he said.

The city is also trying to have Garaufis removed from the case.