The federal judge overseeing the lawsuit against the city claiming that the last three FDNY entrance exams were biased, is now ordering the city to compensate black and Hispanic candidates who took those tests with monetary damages, which could total as much as $128 million.
A ruling issued by Judge Nicholas Garaufis on March 8 said that if the tests given in 1999 and 2001 had been fair, nearly 300 minority applicants would have joined the ranks of the FDNY.
“In fashioning a backpay award, the court must, as nearly as possible, recreate the conditions and relationships that would have been had there been no unlawful discrimination,” Garaufis wrote.
He created the multi-million dollar figure by multiplying the salary and benefits of each rejected candidate by the number of those who would have passed a neutral exam — more than 2,000 of them.
“We believe the court’s latest opinion is erroneous, and, in any event, is the first step in a lengthy process,” city attorney Michael Cardozo said in prepared statement. “As the Court itself noted, any damages the city ultimately must pay will be reduced by the amount each member of the class earned. When all the proceedings have been completed, the damages, if any, that the city will have to pay will be far less than $128 million.”
The city’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to get Garaufis to hold off on his order until the outcome of the lawsuit is determined. The judge rejected the request and blamed the city for breaking federal law.
“It has been in the city’s power to prevent or remedy the need for damages proceedings for a decade, and it has not done so,” Garaufis wrote.
Paul Washington, immediate past president of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of black firefighters, which has long lamented the lack of diversity in the Fire Department and joined the Justice Department lawsuit against the city claiming that the FDNY tests are biased as demonstrated by how few minorities pass, is pleased with the judge’s decision.
“We’re glad that justice continues to be done in this case,” Washington said Tuesday, adding, “All of this could have been avoided if the mayor had just listened to us back in 2002 and done what we asked, instead of being forced to it.”
Deputy Chief Paul Mannix, the founder of Merit Matters, a group that opposes race-based hiring and has criticized the bias lawsuit since it was initially filed, disagrees.
“Justice has not been served,” Mannix, who is not a spokesman for the department, said. “It operates under the basic premise that blacks don’t do well on the test, and I believe we should hold all groups to the same standards.”