FDNY Ordered to Hire More Blacks -- But Budget Woes May Scuttle That for Now

By Alana Horowitz and Sara Gates

Three months ago, when a federal judge ruled that the FDNY had discriminated against minority applicants, it appeared that diversity in the ranks might improve. But at least now, with the city's budget a shambles, that looks unlikely.

U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis' January verdict -- meant to give hiring priority to black and Latino candidates who had been discriminated against by the city's biased entrance exams -- could prove difficult to act on because of budget problems and exam delays.

Though Garaufis ordered the FDNY to take on more minority firefighters, drastic cuts in the city budget are forcing the department to curtail hiring in general. The mayor's preliminary budget report said the FDNY plans to lose 409 jobs through attrition -- by not replacing firefighters leaving the force this year -- and another 1,050 from layoffs.

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However, the FDNY maintains that it is aggressively recruiting new minority candidates to help remedy the inequality. Currently, the department is only 3.4 percent black.

"The goal is to attend more than 3,000 [recruiting] events by November 1st," spokesman Frank Gribbon said. "We are ahead of pace right now."

Typically, firefighters are hired every four years. The last test took place in January 2007, but Garaufis expressed doubts that an acceptable entrance exam will be ready for the next hiring cycle.

Part of his ruling requires the city to draft new exams for the incoming class which offer an equal opportunity for all applicants. Two of the past three tests were determined to be discriminatory. The latest, Exam 6019, which was not included in the original complaint brought against the city, has also had a statistically significant adverse impact on black applicants.

"From what I see, it is not very likely there will be a 2010 class," Garaufis said at a February hearing. "It is very unlikely that the city will sign a new class without first deciding if the testing procedures are discriminatory."

Garaufis will hold a hearing in the coming months to determine the validity of Exam 6019.

Though the city's Law Department is currently working with the Department of City Administrative Services to develop the new entry-level firefighter exam, there is no speculation on when a suitable test will be available.

What is certain is that the city won't be quick to accept the court's final orders.

"The city intends to appeal," the Law Department's Elizabeth Thomas said.


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