FDNY sued for hiring discrimination

By Stefanie Cohen and Patrick Gallahue
The New York Post
Copyright 2007 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

NEW YORK — The FDNY discriminates against minorities in its hiring procedures, especially when it comes to testing applicants, the Justice Department claims in a planned civil-rights lawsuit announced yesterday.

The federal suit will focus on written exams, which the DOJ says are an unfair measure of a prospective firefighter's abilities.

"The Fire Department will be getting what it deserves for not having acted on their own," FDNY Capt. Paul Washington, former president of the Vulcan Society, told WCBS/Channel 2.

The Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization for black firefighters, filed a federal complaint against the FDNY in 2002 charging rampant discrimination. Those claims spurred the federal investigation, which began in 2005, WCBS reported.

"The guy who gets the 99 or 100 on a test isn't going to be any better than the guy who gets the 80 or 75," Washington said. "They should not use that test as a barometer on who's going to get on the job or not."

About 330 of the city's 11,600 uniformed firefighters are black, and 630 are Hispanic. The department has about 70 Asians and 30 female members.

City officials called the suit "ill-advised," pointing out that it is based on testing from 1999 and 2002, and that the Fire Department's hiring procedures are being revamped.

New hiring measures include reducing the minimum college-credit requirement from 30 to 15 as long as the applicant has either six months of military service or work experience.

"We expect that these changes will result in a more balanced distribution of all racial and ethnic groups on the rank-ordered list that will result from the test administered on January 20," city lawyer Michael Cardoza wrote in a letter to the DOJ and the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office.

The January exam drew fire from critics who argued it had been dumbed down, with some questions having multiple correct answers. FDNY sources said at the time that the test was a way to have as many applicants as possible pass.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the department is in the midst of "the most successful recruitment campaign in FDNY history, and over the last five years, the minority hiring rate for firefighters was triple the average in the previous decade."

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