Wednesday, January 13, 2010
A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that New York City intentionally discriminated against black applicants to the Fire Department by continuing to use an exam that it had been told put them at a disadvantage. It was not a “one-time mistake or the product of benign neglect,” wrote the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn. “It was a part of a pattern, practice and policy of intentional discrimination against black applicants that has deep historical antecedents and uniquely disabling effects.” A remedy will be decided on later. . . .
Legal experts, as well as lawyers for the plaintiffs and city officials, said the decision was the first in recent memory in which a court had found that the city had intentionally discriminated against a large group of people — racial minorities or women, for instance — in the workplace. “I can’t recall there ever being a finding of intentional racial discrimination in a pattern-and-practice case against the city,” said Elise C. Boddie, a professor of constitutional law at New York Law School who formerly litigated employment discrimination cases. “I would say this is pretty big.” . . .
In his ruling on Wednesday, the judge found that the city intentionally discriminated against blacks in using those tests and in ignoring calls over the years to change the testing procedure. The suit was brought by three people who took the test and by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black city firefighters.
At the heart of the case is the Fire Department’s persistent underrepresentation of minorities and the continued use, between 1999 and 2007, of the entrance exams. In 2007, there were 303 black firefighters, accounting for 3.4 percent of the department’s ranks; black residents make up 25.6 percent of the city’s population. The judge noted that while the city’s other uniformed services “have made rapid progress integrating black members into their ranks, the Fire Department has stagnated and at times retrogressed.”
The City says it will appeal, so the story's not over yet. But the judge at least believed that the evidence was overwhelming that intentional discrimination was present. Stay tuned.