The Fire Department of New York has a discrimination problem: In a city where, in 2002, 25 percent of the population was black and 27 percent was Hispanic, the fire department was 2.6 percent black and 3.7 percent Hispanic. Other city agencies don’t have this problem, and neither do fire departments in other major cities.
As Steven Thrasher extensively documented for the Voice in 2010, the overwhelming and disproportionate whiteness of the FDNY has been the subject of a roiling legal struggle for nearly half a century. The current lawsuit, brought by the Justice Department over an Equal Employment complaint by the Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters, has been ricocheting around the federal court system since 2007.
In 2010, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis granted the Vulcans summary judgment on their suit, finding that the city had intentionally discriminated against minority applicants. In 2011 he issued an injunction, laying out 69 steps the fire department should undertake to improve its minority recruiting.
But yesterday, a panel of judges from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals partially overturned Garaufis’s decision, finding that with the evidence before him he was wrong to rule that city officials had intentionally set out to discriminate in hiring fire fighters. The panel sent that question back for a new trial, to be held before a new judge.
City lawyers hailed the ruling as a victory, saying it freed them from onerous obligations imposed by Garaufis. But the appeals court left intact major parts of Garaufis’s ruling, including a requirement that the city pay $128 million in damages and back pay to minorities affected by the discriminatory hiring practices. Also still standing is Garaufis’s order for a court-appointed monitor, answering to him, to assess the city’s efforts to instate fair hiring at the FDNY.
Here’s yesterday’s full ruling:
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