Judge Rules FDNY Systematically Discriminated Against Minority Applicants, Cites Racist Practices

NY Daily News - October 01, 2011

by John Marzulli DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

The FDNY systematically discriminated against minorities in recruiting, applicant screening and the investigation of discrimination complaints, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Judge Nicholas Garaufis' conclusion that the Vulcan Society of black firefighters had proven its claims set the stage for the appointment of a court-ordered monitor to oversee changes in the Fire Department.

Garaufis' findings came after a three-week civil trial in Brooklyn Federal Court during which it became increasingly clear that the FDNY remains 93% white largely due to what the judge termed "an informal friends-and-family recruitment network."

"The underrepresentation of black firefighters in the FDNY - a direct result and vestige of the city's pattern and practice of discrimination against black firefighter candidates - is responsible for making blacks significantly less likely to apply to become New York City firefighters in the absence of a formal recruitment program," Garaufis wrote.

The judge credited the city's recent efforts to sign up record numbers of minority applicants for the upcoming firefighter exam. Fire officials said 48% of those who registered for the next test are people of color - almost double the 26% who took the last test in 2007.

But Garaufis strongly suggested that a permanent remedy is necessary and it must come from outside the department.

"We respectfully disagree with some of the court's findings and are continuing to study this lengthy 81-page decision," Georgia Pestana, a top city lawyer, said last night.

Since the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division filed suit against the city in 2007, Garaufis has ruled that the FDNY intentionally discriminated against minority candidates, and he threw out the results of two exams he found were illegal.

Perhaps the most controversial testimony came from the deposition of Sherry Kavaler, former assistant commissioner for human resources, about how white candidates with troubled pasts benefit from the influence of family connections in the screening process.

"You would have lieutenants and captains [contacting] the chief of department: This is the son of so and so ... He's a good guy," Kavaler said. "He beat his wife but his wife took him back so he shouldn't be considered a wife beater.

"You're dealing with a lot of Irishmen who are drunks and they get into bar fights ... This is boys being boys, that type of thing."