The ruling by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month, in a case brought by the federal government and the Vulcan Society, affirmed the appointment of a monitor to oversee minority recruitment and hiring at the New York City Fire Department. It was a setback to the city’s efforts to roll back court control of the department’s hiring practices in the landmark discrimination case.
Capt. Paul Washington, the former president of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal order of Black firefighters, was the FDNY employee who raised the original Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint about the department’s racial discrimination. In 2011, Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis finalized his decision and ordered the FDNY to appoint a court monitor to ensure that the department goes beyond rewriting its firefighter exam.
The court’s decision was a slap in the face to the Bloomberg administration, which allowed the department to remain almost 97 percent white for decades, despite the fact that the city’s population is approximately 25 percent Black.
The court reversed a finding that the city had intentionally discriminated against minorities and took part of the case away from Garaufis in response to complaints of bias, limiting some of the judge’s orders that micromanaged the FDNY. While keeping the monitor in place, the court said Garaufis was wrong to order the city to hire an equal employment opportunity consultant for the FDNY. The city was allowed to continue to advance and support initiatives in the recruitment, retention and promotional advancement of men and women of diverse backgrounds in the FDNY.
The Vulcan Society will begin to see the fruits of their labor. For the next four years, there will be a record number of Blacks entering the FDNY beginning next month, with 293 Black and Hispanic applicants ordered to be hired after the judge found that the 1996 and 2002 tests were discriminatory. There will also be new hires from those who qualify from this year’s exam.
“Imagine if you are a Black firefighter coming to work each day and you are the only person of color on the job,” Washington told the AmNews. “In the near future, there will be a different cultural climate in city firehouses.”
Washington added that it wasn’t just the lawsuit that insured that the FDNY would become more diverse, but the collective support that the Vulcan Society received from elected officials, the community and the Black media.