Fire inspectors at the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) are close to settling a federal race discrimination class action lawsuit against the city for $29.2 million. Considering there are longstanding gender and racial discrimination issues within the fire department, inspectors see this as a win.
This isn’t the first time the FDNY has been sued over racial discrimination.
The FDNY has historically lacked gender and racial diversity among its firefighters, but Black men have been firefighters in the city since the 1920s and Black women since the 1980s. In 2007, the Black Vulcan Firefighter Society filed and won a lawsuit against the FDNY for continued discrimination in the exam process toward Black and Latino applicants. That suit wasn’t settled until 2014.
Five uniformed fire protection inspectors (FPIs) and FDNY Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Local 2507 members are included in the current lawsuit: Darryl Chalmers, Darren Connors, Glenn Mendez, James Nova, and Fatima Q. Rosemond. The group originally filed back in 2020.
Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS Local 2507, said there are about 400 fire inspectors in the union but overall fire inspectors are predominantly people of color. A fire inspector conducts regular inspections of buildings and public activities throughout all five boroughs to ensure compliance with fire safety codes and regulations. They can issue criminal summons and court appearance tickets, and may also face some safety hazards when performing inspections.
“They are treated horribly, even when it comes to identifying their rank at the FDNY,” said Barzilay. “It’s been a problem.”
Barzilay said inspectors are a different rank from firefighters, are paid less, and are often not highlighted at all for their contributions to fire prevention. Over the last three years, he has spoken out about the life-saving work fire inspectors and EMS do to secure buildings.
The lawsuit alleges racial bias in the city’s pay scale, resulting in annual pay gaps ranging up to $9,000 between fire inspectors and building inspectors, who perform similar jobs but historically have been predominantly white.
Barzilay said the settlement is at least an acknowledgment from the city.
As of now, the settlement is a done deal just yet, though. It’s still awaiting a judge’s approval. If it goes through, fire inspectors would get increased salaries backdated to September 1, 2023, through August 31, 2024. On average, each class member is slated to receive between $30,000 and $35,000.
The judge might grant approval by 2024.
The FDNY responded to a request for comment but did not provide one by post time.
[updated with corrections Tues, Sept 19]
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.