City lawyers have implied that Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis “abandoned a neutral role” while presiding over the civil rights case filed against the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) by the U.S. Justice Department and the Vulcan Society, the city’s Black firefighters association.
According to a 139-page legal brief filed last week, the city alleges the judge “injected” personal and “extrajudicial” beliefs into the bitterly fought court battle. They have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse Garaufis’ decision and reassign the case to a “neutral arbiter.”
Last fall, Garaufis finalized his decision and ordered the FDNY to appoint a court monitor to ensure that the department goes beyond rewriting the firefighter exam and reassesses how it recruits, hires and employs Black and Hispanic firefighters.
After the proceedings, the judge said that the only reason the court made the decision to end the city’s discriminatory practice was because “a coalition of Black New York City firefighters [the Vulcan Society] and President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, decided their only recourse was to sue the city of New York to make it stop,” Garaufis wrote.
Under the judge’s order, the city will have goals, not hiring quotas, and will be able to consult with experts to formulate a workable plan under court supervision for the next 10 years. The department, which is the largest in America, is almost 97 percent white despite the fact that the city’s population is approximately 25 percent Black.
“The whole episode speaks volumes about the court’s lack of detachment,” city attorneys wrote in a brief filed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. They accused Garaufis of committing multiple legal errors in reaching his conclusion, being preoccupied with press coverage and acting as both a “witness and advocate for the Vulcan Society.”
“This is just another example of how the mayor is willing to waste millions of taxpayer dollars to save face and say that he is against quotas,” said Capt. Paul Washington, former Vulcan Society president. Washington raised the original Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint about racial discrimination in the FDNY. “The lawsuit would have never occurred if the mayor would have worked this out and saved the city tens of millions of dollars.”
Councilman Charles Barron is a strong supporter of the Vulcan Society and blasted the mayor for not wanting to ensure an equal employment opportunity for those seeking to join the FDNY. “The FDNY is racist in their hiring. That is clear. For [the city] to resist anything close to the monitoring and evaluation of their hiring practices is absurd,” he said. “We’re talking about the FDNY being 2 to 3 percent Black-that’s ridiculous.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the presence of a monitor will be too intrusive as the department searches for the “best and brightest” to join its ranks. He disputes the judge’s ruling.
“He didn’t write the law; he is interpreting it. Interpretation gives a lot of room and the city has disagreed with his honor a number of times,” said Bloomberg on John Gambling’s radio show. “We’re trying to do the right thing. Sometimes, if you give equal opportunity, you don’t get equal results.”
Barron disagreed with the mayor’s rationale. He said that the mayor’s comments prove that the city is not ready for change in the FDNY. “The mayor wants to maintain the Jim Crow policies of the FDNY,” the councilman added. “The mayor says that the monitor will be intrusive. We need to stop the mayor from being exclusive, ‘For whites only.’ This city has a Jim Crow fire department.”
Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem feels that although the city has taken some action to finally integrate the FDNY in recent years, it was only a move designed to draw attention away from the fact that they were still fighting the integration of the FDNY in the courts.
“After protecting the nepotistic and blatantly racist practices of the FDNY for what equates to an entire mayoral term, it is ridiculous and shameful for the mayor to again stand on the side of ignorance with this bizarre request,” Wright stated.
“The judge is right to be distrustful of this administration and their true commitment to justice and equality,” he continued. “As Judge Garaufis has correctly stated, ‘The city still doesn’t get it,’ and his bombastic request for removal confirms that Mayor Bloomberg ‘gets it’ just about as much as Blacks and Latinos get jobs as firefighters in New York City.”