Last week, Judge Nicholas Garaufis selected former Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Mark S. Cohen to watch over the recruitment, testing and hiring of new firefighters of color in New York City.
The appointment followed four years of litigation that found that the Fire Department discriminated against Blacks and Latinos.
Attorney Darius Charney, who represents the Vulcan Society, the fraternal order of Black firefighters, seemed satisfied with the appointment.
“We are fairly confident that he will be up for the task,” said Charney. “We are looking forward to working with him and hope that the city works well with him, too.”
Cohen, currently a white-collar litigator, was a prosecutor in the criminal division of the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn from 1990 to 1995. Cohen was selected from a field of 12 candidates, including former judges, prosecutors, litigators, arbitrators, mediators, city officials, law professors and law school deans.
“Cohen wasn’t a choice of any of the three parties. In some ways, I think that’s a good thing. It is not anybody who is going to be biased or in favor of any one party,” Charney said. “I think what is good about the appointment is that the city agrees with it. Hopefully, that means that the city is going to cooperate fully with Cohen because that is really the goal of the monitor process-to have somebody that the city will work with and comply with his order.”
The city had no objection to Cohen’s candidacy for appointment but didn’t agree that a monitor is warranted. “We will be appealing the partial judgment and remedial order as soon as that order has been entered, which the court has indicated is forthcoming,” stated Georgia Pestana, chief of labor and employment law for the New York City Law Department.
Cohen will follow the judge’s orders, according to court document to “compel the city to undertake a program of court-guided institutional reform to make its equal employment opportunity compliance activities effective; to eliminate the barriers its hiring policies and practices have erected or maintained that serve to perpetuate the underrepresentation of Blacks and Hispanics as firefighters in the FDNY.”
“The monitor will have to follow the judge’s direction,” said FDNY Captain Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society. He was the FDNY employee who raised the original Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint about the department’s racial discrimination. “We will have input as to how things are assessed and changed in the hiring practices of the Fire Department.”
Washington said that the Vulcan Society, along with the monitor, would study the FDNY’s recruiting efforts for the upcoming firefighter test next year and report back to the court. “We will be able to say that this it what they didn’t do this time and this is what has to be done next time,” Washington added.
The FDNY is the largest fire department in the country. “The toughest task for the monitor will be the enormity of everything,” said Charney. “The monitor is going to oversee everything…This will be a very big, involved process that will take several years.”