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Queens Chronicle

FDNY fairness hearing draws protesters

The Vulcan Society and Merit Matters clash on bias, yet again

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:45 am, Thu Oct 11, 2012.

An FDNY fairness hearing at a Brooklyn courthouse on Monday drew protesters and saw the staging of a press conference with those on both sides of a federal bias lawsuit voicing their opinions.

“We are absolutely not against the integration of the Fire Department, but we are against the ruination of the Fire Department,” said FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix, the founder of Merit Matters, a group, that opposes race-based hiring. “We don’t care if the department is all white, or all black, or all Hispanic, all Asian or all women, as long as they’re all qualified.”

Mannix, speaking in his capacity as an activist, said some 300 members of his group showed up to declare their position that hiring should be based on skill, not race.

U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis previously ruled that the department’s entrance exams given in 1999, 2002 and 2007 were biased because of the small number of minorities who passed.

Those affected by the outcome of the FDNY bias lawsuit had the opportunity to air their grievances at the fairness hearing, which was to take place over the course of four days — Oct. 1 through Oct. 4.

The Vulcan Society, the group of black firefighters who joined the suit against the city filed by the U.S. Justice Department, held a press conference outside the U.S. District Court. Darius Charney, an attorney for the group accused the Merit Matters members of trying to stop the integration of the FDNY.

“The demographics of the protesters today really serve to highlight the inequality in the department,” Charney said in a prepared statement, though he did not mention the group by name. “There are a few people trying to stir up hostility in the firehouses, and they are creating a charged atmosphere that could lead to retaliation against the men and women who will be integrating the department. We urge them to realize the dangers of their actions, stand aside, and allow the New York City Fire Department to enter the 21st century.”

Mannix called the accusation “inane and idiotic,” and vowed not to stand aside. He also noted how the Merit Matters members wore T-shirts with the FDNY’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy statement on the back, which says that hiring decisions should be made without regard to color or any consideration other than merit.

“It’s sad how they still fall back on calling us racist after all this time,” Mannix said of the Vulcans. “We are sick and tired of the intimation that we are racist.”

Garaufis found the city liable for wage losses totaling $128,696,803 for black and Latino applicants and granted retroactive seniority to those affected by the discrimination. He further required the department to hire 186 black firefighters and 107 Latino firefighters who pass a new test and meet all of the other requirements for the job. Individual class members had to pursue these remedies through a claims process. The fairness hearing provided an opportunity for those opposed to the remedies to voice their complaints.

“It has been 148 years of discrimination in the Fire Department,” Captain Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society, said in a prepared statement. “We must not let those trying to stand in the way of integration detract from the great advances being made. Finally, the New York City Fire Department’s hires will look like the city it serves.”

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