New York Race Discrimination Case Shocks NYC Fire Department

A long smoldering New York race discrimination allegation against the NYC Fire Department has ignited a firestorm of commentary. Judge Nicolas G. Garaufis ruled on January 14th that the NYC Fire Department had intentionally discriminated against applicants based on their race, and that the city must take immediate corrective actions.

The Vulcan Society (an organization of black New York City firefighters) applauded Judge Garaufis’ decision to order the city to compensate minority firefighter applicants who applied for positions from the years 1989 to 2002. This would cover around 7,400 applicants, of whom the city is now required to hire 293. These candidates must be black or Hispanic, and some of them must be granted retroactive seniority.

Judge Garaufis stopped short of ordering the Fire Department to install a quota system for hiring minority applicants; instead, he urged all parties to work together to resolve any disputes that might arise in the execution of his orders. Judge Garaufis was quoted in the New York Times: “Achieving these basic aims [ensuring that qualified, diverse individuals come to be accepted as New York City firefighters] will require ongoing oversight, attention to many details and resolution of disputes among the parties.” (New York Times; January 21st, 2010).

Allegations of discriminatory testing for firefighters are not unique to New York City. In the reverse discrimination case of Ricci v. New Haven nineteen city firefighters (seventeen of whom are white and two of whom are Hispanic) alleged that the city of New Haven discriminated against them and denied them promotions because of their race–a form of racial discrimination. All had passed a test for promotions to management but city officials invalidated the test results because none of the black firefighters who passed the exam had scored high enough to be considered for promotions. The Supreme Court decided (5-4) that New Haven’s decision to ignore the test results violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This New Haven case captured the nation’s attention last summer when one of the presiding Judges, Sonia Sotomayor, got nominated by President Obama to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you or a loved one has been victimized by racial discrimination, national origin discrimination, or retaliation, legal options abound. To explore your rights and possibilities for recompense, connect with the expert team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640, or send us an email at to initiate a free and confidential consultation with one of our top caliber attorneys.

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