New York City Settles Fire Department Discrimination Case

April 2, 2014 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Under the leadership of New York City’s progressive new mayor Bill de Blasio, a settlement has been reached between a discrimination suited filed by the Vulcan Society (representing ethnic minority firefighters) and the city over the use of racially based civil service tests that favoured white applicants.

In a case dating back to 2007, which found the city guilty of racism in testing by a Federal Court and still being appealed by the city due to former mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to accept the ruling, an acceptance of the court’s findings by mayor de Blasio brings an end to this shameful episode of discrimination against minority firefighters and applicants by their own government.

However, there are some groups who still try and defend the racist practices of the Bloomberg years. One example can be found in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s ultra-right New York Post which claims, untruly, that de Blasio “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” In its editorial [3-18-2014] the Post tries to mislead its readers by distorting the facts and falsifying the information that they present to them (a common practice of Murdoch’s operations in general). I can’t help but get the impression that the Post is waging a disinformation war against working people in general, and minorities in particular, in the interests of its anti-working class owners.

In the first place, there was no “victory” on the horizon against the proof of racism on the part of the FDNY. The Post claims that the “case had been moving in the FDNY’s direction” because it was on appeal due to the appeal court’s finding that the judge handling it (Nicholas Garauflis ) “had raised so much doubt about his impartiality that a key part of the case was assigned to another judge.”
The Post adds, “Even so’. the city agreed to shell out $98 million in back pay, medical benefits and interest to the suing firefighters.” The Post calls this a “surrender.” Actually it was a victory for the FDNY and the city.

The Post’s version is misleading as it gives the impression that the charge of “racism” against the FDNY was in doubt and only if that were true would the case be “moving in the FDNY’s direction” and maybe the $98 million need not be “shelled out.” What is the truth? 
Judge Garauflis found the FDNY guilty of “unlawful disparate impact” with respect to its testing policy. This is a technical legal term but simply put it means that it is illegal to give civil service tests that don’t really test for knowledge that is related to job performance and have a negative effect on groups of people by failing them so they can’t get the job. In this case the test is illegal because it has nothing really to do with the job being tested for.

The FDNY’s test was such a test and it can be called “racist” because it had the effect of preventing minorities in general from being employed by the department. Even after this was pointed out to the department, it continued to use such tests– this was the reason for the lawsuit. This finding was not questioned by the appeals court and the $98 million and other penalties were going to go into effect period.

What the appeals court objected to was Judge Garauflis’ additional finding that the NYFD had intentionally designed the tests to be discriminatory. The appeals court appointed another judge to handle this issue. But it also left Judge Garauflis in charge of the financial and other penalties in the case so there was no “shelling out” of any monies by the mayor. 
Why was the settlement a victory and not a “surrender.” Because the settlement entailed the city accepting the verdict of “unlawful disparate impact” which was not on appeal anyway and the Vulcan Society withdrew its complaint that this was the result of a deliberate plan to discriminate. Thus the appeal was ended.

The NYFD can feel, in some sense, vindicated because it can claim that it never deliberately discriminated against minorities, and hence the city is not “racist” in that sense. It is also a victory for the people of New York City because when a racist practice is pointed out they have a mayor who moves to correct it and not cover it up.

The only defeat goes to the The New York Post and its racist anti-working class agenda.


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This post was written by Thomas Riggins

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