De Blasio lawyers to fight FDNY hiring-bias suit

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While the de Blasio administration has moved speedily to end Bloomberg-era legal disputes over racial issues, its lawyers are set to defend the city at trial this month against a suit accusing the Fire Department of discriminating in hiring minorities.

The case involves black firefighters challenging a department in which more than 4 of 5 uniformed personnel are white.

Lawyers opposing the city say that's surprising. "Believe it or not, there is a trial scheduled," said Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

A spokesman for the city Law Department confirmed there have been no formal settlement talks.

In January, Charney's boss stood at de Blasio's side as the mayor declared that the city would end its court fight defending the NYPD's past practices of stopping, questioning and frisking mostly black and Latino young men. On Wednesday, de Blasio announced that his lawyers would drop another Bloomberg-era lawsuit, one seeking to block a law allowing suits against individual cops for racial profiling.

De Blasio criticized the FDNY during his campaign last year as lacking diversity.

"The fact that our police and fire departments still don't truly reflect the demographics of our city is unacceptable," his campaign website said.

The case is set to go to trial March 31 at federal district court in Brooklyn.

"I am a little disappointed," Charney said. "I would have hoped that they would have taken concrete action sooner on this, given how quickly they moved on stop-and-frisk."

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De Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams said the administration's policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

The Fire Department was 84 percent white as of December, according to spokeswoman Elisheva Zakheim. It was 92 percent white in 2002, she said. The city was 44 percent white in the 2010 census.

The case dates to 2007. In 2011, U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled he didn't need a trial to find the city intentionally discriminated against minority applicants.

Although an appeals court later threw out parts of the decision, it left in place a monitor whose jurisdiction will end in 2017.

The city does not contest the finding that there was unintentional discrimination, but disagrees with the claim -- to be the focus of the trial -- that it was intentional. The plaintiffs are seeking damages, too.

City officials have argued they have been working to improve diversity.

A hearing is scheduled Friday on the plaintiffs' proposed witness list, which includes former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former FDNY commissioners Nicholas Scoppetta and Thomas Von Essen.

John Coombs, president of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of black firefighters that is a party to the lawsuit, said he's hopeful de Blasio will seek a resolution.

"I have a feeling his administration is understanding that the biases and the prejudices that occurred in the past aren't his administration's, and I'm confident they'll be willing to work with us rather than work against us," Coombs said.

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