The city’s fire department must subject itself to court supervision for five years to ensure it does not discriminate against blacks and Hispanics in its hiring practices, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited the “distressing pattern” within the department of insufficient minority hires, highlighted by a lawsuit brought more than a decade ago by a black firefighters’ group, the Vulcan Society.
A three-judge panel of the Manhattan court reduced the requirements of a court-monitoring program to conform to its finding that a Brooklyn judge had improperly concluded without trial that the city intentionally discriminated. On the subject of intentional discrimination, the court voted 2-to-1.
It said such a finding would have to be reached at trial. It also removed U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis from the case for trial purposes, noting he had branded the city’s evidence “incredible,” making it fair to question whether he could be impartial. He also called the FDNY “a stubborn bastion of white male privilege.”
Still, the appeals court left him in control of the remedial process, calling him an “entirely fair-minded jurist.”
The appeals panel noted that the percentage of black hires in the fire department had been below 4 percent for decades and that the current percent of 3.4 percent “compares woefully to the 16.6 percent achieved by the city’s Police Department and the 61.4 percent achieved by the city’s Corrections Department.”
Of the city’s 11,200 uniformed firefighters, 9 percent are black or Hispanic. More than half the residents in the city of 8 million identify with a racial minority group.
Lawyers on both sides praised the decision. But it was unclear when the court oversight would begin.
At an afternoon briefing, Michael Cardozo, the city’s top lawyer, refused to credit the lawsuit for improvements in fire department hiring, saying changes were made by then-Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and later by Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. The appeals court reinstated federal claims against Scoppetta, but it said claims against Mayor Bloomberg were properly thrown out.