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Federal judge calls FDNY recruiting exams discriminatory

A Brooklyn federal judge's ruling that the New York City Fire Department's recruiting exams discriminated against blacks and Hispanics will help change the face of the department, the head of the group that sued the department said Thursday.

"If we have an exam that's relative and inclusive, we have a greater chance," said John Coombs, president of the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters in the FDNY.

Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled Wednesday that the department's tests administered from 1999 to 2007 had little relationship to firefighter duties and unfairly shut out "large segments of the city's population."

In his ruling, Garaufis also found the tests required an inappropriate reading level. A glance at a copy of the exams released Thursday by the city Law Department revealed complicated questions but no apparent discriminatory language.

Asked to point out questions he considered discriminatory on the exam, Coombs said, "I'm not going to answer that. It's irrelevant."

He added, "It's a bad exam when the exam gives you the same results, results that are abysmal for diversity."

Garaufis' ruling followed a class-action complaint filed in 2007 by the U.S. Justice Department and the Vulcan Society, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights in Manhattan.

Georgia Pestana, chief of the city Law Department's Division of Labor and Employment, said in a statement that the city used an outside expert to develop a new test that was administered in January 2007. She also said the department increased its minority recruiting efforts as part of a $2-million program.

In all, the FDNY has more than 11,500 firefighters. Of those, 363 are black and 735 are Hispanic, city officials said.

Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP's New York chapter, said the organization has long supported the Vulcan Society's work to better diversify the department. She said she hopes the ruling will provide blacks and Hispanics more opportunities.

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