A Brooklyn federal judge ruled Thursday that blacks and Hispanics discriminated against in past New York City Fire Department hiring exams are entitled to preferential treatment for new jobs.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who previously ruled the city's firefighter tests have discriminated for decades, said three of every five new FDNY jobs will have to go to minorities discriminated against in past tests until 293 of them are hired.
In a 57-page opinion outlining his plans to remedy FDNY bias, Garaufis said he wouldn't impose long-term quotas "at this time," but would demand new tests and either damage payments or jobs with retroactive seniority for minorities who were denied jobs after past exams.
He also signaled he wanted to move quickly, ordering a hearing to iron out details next month. "Each day that a remedy is delayed increases the impact of the city's discrimination on the affected individuals," Garaufis wrote.
The Justice Department sued the city in 2007 over its 1999 and 2002 hiring tests. Last year, Garaufis found the tests bore little relationship to firefighting skill and produced disproportionate hiring of non-Hispanic whites.
Last week he found a pattern of intentional discrimination dating back decades, leaving blacks and Hispanics each with only 3 to 4 percent of the jobs.
Thursday's ruling said 7,400 minority applicants sat for the past tests, and analysis showed 293 more should have gotten jobs. Minorities who took the tests are entitled to damages, Garaufis said, and 293 who are qualified are entitled to jobs at a ratio of two blacks and one Hispanic for every five new hires. Retroactive seniority, he said, means new hires should start with the pay and pension accruals of more experienced firefighters.
Still to be settled: How to choose among applicants if more than 293 want a job, and what new test the city can use to decide if they are qualified. Garaufis plans to review the city's current firefighters' test.
Attorneys for the Vulcan Society, the black firefighters' group that joined the Justice Department suit, said Garaufis' 3-of-5 rule was not a quota because it gave a job to past victims of discriminatory tests but did not order race-based hiring of people who never took the tests.
"You're compensating them for their injury," said lawyer Darius Cherny.
Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sniped at Garaufis' ruling that his administration had engaged in deliberate discrimination, and the city indicated it would appeal when he enters a final judgment. Thursday, the city again said his decision was legally flawed.
"An initial examination suggests that today's opinion does not fully address the complex constitutional issues presented - nor does it give proper weight to developments in this area of law," said Georgia Pestana, head of the Law Department's labor division.
The judge's remedies
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Thursday outlined his plans to remedy discrimination at the New York City Fire Department after ruling tests in 1999 and 2002 unfairly excluded minorities:
Minorities who took the tests and were qualified but didn't get jobs will be entitled to damages for lost wages and benefits.
293 of the test takers will get firefighter jobs.
Three out of every five new jobs will go to a minority who took the test - two blacks and one Hispanic - until the goal of 293 is reached.
The new hires will also get retroactive seniority.
The city will have to develop a new test.
No long-term quotas "at this time."
Compiled by John Riley