Chief Leader - July 10, 2018
Of the 2,269 Firefighter candidates called from the top of the new hiring list to take the prep course for the physical aptitude test, 874 were black or Latino: 536 were Hispanic and 338 were African-American.
The statistics were shared June 28 with U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis at a conference on the status of the FDNY Vulcan Society discrimination-lawsuit settlement.
Progress Being Made
He told the lawyers for the city, the Department of Justice and the Vulcan Society that he believed “that overall progress is being made” in the FDNY’s efforts to diversify its ranks, as it committed to do when the city settled the legal battle in 2014.
For decades, the percentage of African-Americans in the FDNY was in the low single digits. In 2002, the Vulcan Society initiated an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint challenging the fairness of the 1999 and 2002 Firefighter exams. Three years later, the U.S. EEOC ruled on the Vulcan Society’s behalf.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Federal class-action lawsuit, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of black firefighters and firefighter applicants, leading to the $98-million dollar settlement seven years later.
During the status conference Firefighter Regina Wilson, president of the Vulcan Society, expressed concerns to Judge Garaufis that several recent press accounts about alleged racist and drunken behavior by members of the FDNY undermined the department’s efforts at appearing to be an inclusive and professional organization.
Seven firefighters and one officer were suspended by the Fire Department after a post-Medal Day celebration at Billy’s Bar, near Yankee Stadium, devolved into a drunken brawl in which one Firefighter may have used a racial epithet.
Ms. Wilson also raised the recent case of Probationary Firefighter Joseph Cassano, son of ex-Commissioner Sal Cassano, who back in 2013 had to resign from his position as a member of the FDNY Emergency Medical Service after anti-Semitic and racist tweets of his surfaced. In 2015 he was rehired as an EMT, then promoted to Firefighter last year.
Earlier in June, a New Jersey summons for trespassing led to a 30-day suspension for the younger Cassano. The New York Post, which first reported the department discipline, said it was in response to his allegedly defecating on someone’s deck chair on the Jersey shore, which resulted in local police writing him a summons.
Judge Garaufis said that while he was “not in the position to oversee every aspect of how the FDNY was run,” he was troubled by the impact such stories could have on public perceptions. “I understand the concerns that were just raised,” he said.
Ms. Wilson also contended that the FDNY's EEO complaint process was far from transparent and that it dragged on for several months. "I was interviewed back in February on a complaint and I haven't heard back, and it's now June into July,” she said.
“It’s crucial to hear something back. You can’t stay in limbo for months,” she said. Afterwards, in speaking with reporters Ms. Wilson said that Firefighters who have been targets of on-the-job discrimination see the FDNY EEO process as a hollow one that is just a prerequisite to filing a complaint with the U.S. EEOC.
Judge Garaufis pressed the city’s lawyers for data on how long it takes the FDNY to investigate and resolve EEO complaints. They furnished no details but said there had been a spike in EEO complaints, from 26 in 2015 to 191 last year.
Judge Garaufis told the city that he wanted to see accountability for the integrity of the EEO process integrated throughout the FDNY chain of command. “There is no way to follow up on an EEO complaint if it is just 'check a box,' ” he said.