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In Victory for Black Firefighters, FDNY Hiring Practices Ruled Racially Discriminatory

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Judge Rules Test Was Not Fair and In Violation of Title VII

CONTACT:  press@ccrjustice.org  

July 22, 2009, New York, NY – Today, United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit charging the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) with racially discriminatory hiring practices. The case, which proved the FDNY examination was in violation of civil rights laws, was filed on behalf of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from Levy Ratner, P.C. and Scott + Scott, LLP.

“From 1999 to 2007, the New York City Fire Department used written examinations with discriminatory effects and little relationship to the job of a firefighter… [that] unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters,” said Judge Garaufis in the Memorandum and Order. “Today, the court holds that New York City’s reliance on these examinations constitutes employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

“The court found that the city closed the door on over a thousand qualified candidates of color,” said CCR attorney Darius Charney. “This is a tremendous victory that we’ve been fighting towards for over seven years and we applaud the court for recognizing that the FDNY written examination has no bearing on whether or not a firefighter is qualified.”

As of October 2007, black and Hispanic firefighters comprised only 3.4 and 6.7 percent of the FDNY, respectively. The combined black and Hispanic population of New York City comprises over half its total population. New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America; 57 percent of Los Angeles, 51 percent of Philadelphia and 40 percent of Boston firefighters are people of color.

“Racial discrimination is still alive and well in our city’s institutions,” said Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society. “We celebrate today’s decision for recognizing that unfair firefighter exams and other employment schemes that only serve to block qualified candidates have no place in public service.”

In April of this year, CCR and its co-counsel asked Judge Garaufis to grant summary judgment in favor of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters in the FDNY, and three individual candidates in light of the overwhelming evidence supporting their claims, thus eliminating the need for a trial.

CCR, Levy Ratner, and Scott + Scott formally filed to intervene on behalf of the Vulcan Society in the Department of Justice's lawsuit against the City of New York for discriminatory hiring practices in July 2007. The lawsuit grew out of two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filings by CCR on behalf of the Vulcan Society in 2002 and 2005. The intervention allowed the Vulcan Society to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

To read the ruling or for more information on the case, see CCR's Vulcan Society case page.

To listen to to CCR attorney Darius Charney, John Coombs, president of Vulcan Society and Paul Washington, past president of Vulcan Society on WBAI and press the "play" button below.

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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.