The city filed an appeal last week contesting U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis’ finding that officials have intentionally discriminated against minorities trying to join New York’s Bravest and his appointment of a monitor to oversee all aspects of hiring for the next 10 years at least to remedy what he believes is systematic racial bias within the Fire Department.
Claiming that Garaufis has lost his objectivity, city attorneys want him removed from the case, his decisions reversed and a neutral arbitrator assigned to take over. The judge has ruled that the last three FDNY exams are biased, and blocked the city from hiring applicants who passed those tests.
In a 139-page document submitted on Jan. 18 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, city attorney Michael Cardozo, accuses Garaufis of ignoring critical evidence, getting swept up in media coverage of the case and becoming an advocate for the Vulcan Society, the group of black firefighters who joined the suit against the city filed by the U.S. Justice Department.
“It is an understatement to say that this judge has expressed firm views on the city’s ostensible intent to discriminate, as well as the supposed need for close judicial oversight of systemic relief,” the city’s court briefing said. “To any reasonable observer, the vehemence of those beliefs would raise substantial doubt that he could fairly reevaluate the evidence on either issue.”
Garaufis concluded the tests given in 1999, 2002 and 2007 were biased because of the small number of minorities who passed. He appointed former federal prosecutor Mark Cohen as the court monitor charged with overseeing the FDNY’s hiring practices for the next decade.
Cohen decided on Dec. 27 to allow Vulcan recruiters to conduct follow-up visits with black candidates who had not properly completed their applications — four months after the filing deadline and several weeks after the FDNY had stopped making outreach phone calls to members of other groups, which critics say amounts to special treatment.
In its appeal, the city claims that what began as a lawsuit to challenge the objectivity of two entrance exams turned into “a vehicle for an unjustified judicial takeover of a municipal public-safety agency’s hiring structure.”
City attorneys further allege that the court excluded key evidence, ignored established principles and conducted impermissible fact-finding to conclude that the FDNY intentionally discriminates against minority candidates.
“As a result of that erroneous ruling, the District Court views the city as a “fiefdom” rife with deliberate race discrimination, whose decision-makers ostensibly conspired to keep the FDNY a ‘bastion of white male privilege’ by purposely using civil-service exams to screen out black applicants,” the briefing says.
Firefighter Paul Washington, immediate past president of the Vulcans, said Monday that he is not concerned about the city’s appeal and added that the group has made significant strides outside of the lawsuit, like getting the city to rework the entrance exam, but would not elaborate as to what the other accomplishments were.
“There is very little chance that anything will happen,” Washington said of the city’s appeal. “Just because the city makes a ridiculous claim does not mean they are going to get what they want.”
He also slammed the mayor and the administration for not working with the Vulcans sooner to diversify the ranks of the FDNY, leaving them no other choice than to pursue legal action.
“The mayor has wasted tens of millions of dollars in fighting this case when none of this had to be,” Washington said. “We were willing, for years, to sit down and work this out without filing a lawsuit.”
Washington believes that Bloomberg is vigorously fighting the case because “he wants to say that he stood against special treatment for blacks or hiring quotas and have that be a part of his legacy.”
Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, criticized the mayor, who he said “is like the George Wallace of New York City,” for being “stubborn” and taking the judge on instead of trying to work on a plan that includes more minorities and women.
“The mayor does not want to bring about change in the Fire Department,” Gadsden said. “He has no desire to do anything. He’s all about, this is the way we do things and that’s just the way it is.”
One group that has consistently spoken out against the Vulcans’ lawsuit and Garaufis’ ruling is Merit Matters, an organization that opposes race-based hiring in the FDNY. It is headed by Deputy Chief Paul Mannix, who has been with the department for 23 years.
Merit Matters filed an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Tuesday, which would allow it to submit facts and figures not otherwise entered into evidence even through the organization is not a party to the case.
Mannix believes Garaufis should be removed. He also invites any member of the FDNY who has a substantiated claim of racism to come to his group for help. “Contact Merit Matters, and we will stand up for you,” Mannix said.
Another one of the group’s members, Andy Rasavongseuk, who is of Laotian descent and works with Squad 270, a special firefighting unit in Richmond Hill, also agrees that Garaufis should get booted from the case.
“I don’t know where he lost his impartiality or how, but he needs to be removed,” Rasavongseuk said. “The talk around the firehouse is that we want people to get the job because they earned it, not because they pulled some idiot off the street.”
An assistant to Garaufis said the judge had no comment.