By Julissa Catalan
More than half of New York City’s population is made up of nonwhites and/or Latinos, yet Blacks and Latinos have never made up more than 4 percent of the Fire Department, City of New York (FDNY).
After a seven-year legal battle, the City of New York has reached a nearly $100 million settlement with close to 1,500 Black and Latino fire-department recruits who had accused the city and the FDNY of intentional racial discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of underrepresented firefighters, and the U.S. Department of Justice, claimed the FDNY hiring processes in 1999 and 2002 had an institutionalized bias in place to shut out underrepresented firefighters from receiving job placement.
“This is a great day in the City of New York,” said Captain Paul Washington, a former president of the Vulcan Society. “We hope that this is the beginning of a new day for the New York City Fire Department.”
The $98 million settlement covers back pay and benefits, including lost medical payments, fringe benefits and interest. Applicants who took the civil-service exam but did not get jobs and firefighters whose placement was delayed because of discrimination will be assigned to firehouses in their residing neighborhoods. Under the settlement terms, the FDNY will also implement new recruitment policies that will increase the number of Black and Latino firefighters.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said a position will be created within the fire department for an executive staff member with the title Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, reporting directly to the Commissioner. The FDNY will also work closely with the Department of Education and neighboring colleges to recruit underrepresented applicants as part of the reform.
In an official statement, de Blasio said, “The brave men and women of the FDNY work tirelessly to keep us safe from harm’s wayand our administration is committed to ensuring every New Yorker who seeks to take on this heroic role has a fair opportunity to join the ranks.
“This administration is fully committed to promoting diversity and equal access in every sector across our five boroughs, and this settlement will move New York City one step closer to this goal.”
The settlement comes after a federal appeals court ordered the FDNY to be supervised for five years to see if there is still discrimination taking place during the recruitment process. In 2011, federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis found “copious evidence” of intentional discrimination toward Blacks and Latinos in the hiring process and appointed an independent monitor to oversee the testing and hiring process for 10 years.
When terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 343 FDNY firefighters (most of whom were white), whites represented 95 percent of the department. Currently, about 90 percent of FDNY firefighters are white, but more than 60 percent of the department’s probationary firefighters are Black or Hispanic, according to the department.
The doubling in the percentage of Black and Latino firefighters has been spurred in large part by the litigation.