New York

The City Goes Back to Federal Court Over the FDNY


The City of New York was back in United States District Judge Nicholas Garaufis’s courtroom today, just a few weeks after the judge issued a blistering order calling the FDNY “a bastion of white male privilege.”

Garaufis’s order mandated that the FDNY and the city will be placed under a “Court Monitor” for the next decade or so in an attempt to force the city to diversify the fire department and bring it into compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The parties were in court today to begin the process of selecting who that Court Monitor will be and to touch base on how progress is coming on creating the next firefighter exam, which will be given in January.

In the past year that we’ve been going to these hearings, the composition of the gallery has changed. There is more press now. The proceedings have gotten more technical, and the city has basically lost its case. Gone from the audience are the members of the “limbo class” we profiled last year, who will have to re-take the new exam.

The first conflict came up in court when the two sides chimed in on the draft order Garaufis had ordered earlier this month. Although the order speaks pretty broadly toward the discrimination blacks and Hispanics have faced in the FDNY, in one paragraph, the judge had written specifically about the “disparate impact” of blacks only. The United States government asked Garaufis to add Hispanics there, and the city — as they have done at pretty much every stage — said there wasn’t discrimination towards Hispanics in terms of “disparat impact” and asked the judge to leave it as he wrote it.

He seemed to be siding with the city on what he’d written, but said he would “clarify” that paragraph and that he’d “take a closer look at it.”

When it moved on to the issue of who would be the Court Monitor, Garaufis thanked both sides for submitting nominees, all of whom he stressed were well-qualified.

“Unfortunately, but not surprisingly,” he said, almost sighing, the parties had not suggested any of the same people. “It’s troubling that you all were not able to embrace one or two candidates unanimously, but I will deal with that,” he chided, telling either party to make objections they had about the other side’s nominees by October 25.

The issues of potential back pay for a sub-class of the lawsuit, as well as progress on the upcoming written exam (which will actually be computer based for the first time) were glossed over. Garaufis and the attorneys for the United States, the Vulcan Society and the city all seemed ready to call it a day when John Coombs, the President of the Vulcan Society, raised his hand without his lawyer, Ricahrd Levy, seeing it.

Quizzically, the droll Garauifis said, “Mr. Levy, your client has his hand raised!”

Coombs tried to speak to the judge directly, who advised him to say it through his lawyer. After an awkward and highly unusual whispered discussion about this, Levy relented and said that, while he didn’t think it was necessary, if the judge had a few minutes, Coombs had something he really wanted to say.

“I’m here for life,” Garaufis responded, “so I’ve got the time.”

Coombs stood up and gave an impassioned plea that Lyndelle Philips, the city’s Equal Employment Officer for the FDNY, should be allowed to stay in her job until a Court Monitor is in place. Coombs implied that Philips had been put out to pasture by the city just days after (and, from Coombs’s inference, because of) Garaufis’s draft order. With heartfelt words, Coombs said a Court Master shouldn’t start with a new EEO point person, and he said in so many words that her removal was just another act of obstruction on the city’s party. He called for an immediate injunction to keep Philips in her job.

Garaufis thanked Coombs for the unorthodox address to the court and denied his request, but said that the Court Monitor could debrief Philips as needed, even if she were no longer in her job.

When court was adjourned, no further hearings were scheduled.


Previous: The FDNY, a “Bastion of White Male Privilege,” Placed Under Permanent Injunction by Judge
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