- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Fire Department of the city of New York uses written examinations that discriminate against blacks and Hispanics in the hiring of entry-level firefighters, the Justice Department said in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New York, said that of the FDNY’s 11,000 uniformed firefighters in all ranks, about 3 percent are black and 4.5 percent are Hispanic — contrasting sharply with the percentages of blacks and Hispanics in the city’s Police Department, at 13.4 and 17.2 percent, respectively.

“Examinations should validly measure an applicant’s ability to do the job,” said Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim, who heads the department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The city’s testing practices, however, do not select the firefighter applicants who will best perform their important public-safety mission, while disproportionately screening out large numbers of qualified black and Hispanic applicants,” Mr. Kim said.

According to the lawsuit, the FDNY’s use of two written examinations in the selection of firefighter applicants violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they result in a “disparate impact against black and Hispanic applicants and do not accurately determine whether an applicant will be able to perform the job of firefighter.”

Title VII prohibits employment practices and selection devices that have a disparate impact on the basis of race or national origin, unless employers can prove that such practices and devices are “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Justice Department officials said the lawsuit stems in part from accusations of race discrimination made in charges to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by Vulcan Society Inc., which represents black FDNY firefighters, and three individual claimants.

Following an EEOC determination that the city’s use of the examinations violated Title VII, the officials said the department conducted its own investigation and found the city’s use of the examinations constituted a practice of discrimination against both blacks and Hispanics.

“Municipal employers may not use written tests that are not job-related and that make it more difficult for black and Hispanic applicants to become firefighters,” said U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf in New York. “This lawsuit seeks to provide remedies to those who are victims of past discrimination, and to ensure that qualified black and Hispanic applicants are hired in the future by the FDNY.”

The two written examinations identified in the lawsuit were administered in February 1999 and December 2002. It said the first examination was used to appoint new firefighters from February 2001 until December 2004. The second examination has been used to appoint new firefighters since May 2004, it said.

Presidential contender Rudolph W. Giuliani served as mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001. He was succeeded by Michael R. Bloomberg. Although the city administered a new written firefighter examination in January 2007, the lawsuit said it continues to appoint new firefighters from the eligibility list of the second examination. The city has advised the Justice Department it intends to continue to use that eligibility list until May 2008.

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