Of course we want a Fire Department whose members look like the people they serve, of all races and ethnicities.
But we’ve never bought into the claim that the city has purposely discriminated against minority applicants to the FDNY, as alleged in a federal lawsuit brought against the former administration back in 2007. Nor do we agree with the legal principle that the “disparate impact” some government practice has on minorities is discriminatory, as the federal Department of Justice said when it joined the suit.
Now the case is going to be settled. And while the result is almost certainly going to be a more diverse Fire Department, it comes at a fairly high price.
The first and most obvious part of that price is $98 million from the public. That’s how much the city is going to pay out to minorities who took the test and either were not hired or were hired later than they might have been. The money includes “back pay, fringe benefits and interest,” according to the city.
So people who did not qualify for the Fire Department because of low test scores will be paid. OK.
Of course the cost does not end there. The city will also create a new position in the FDNY, reporting directly to the commissioner: a chief diversity and inclusion officer. That person — whose salary no doubt will be in the six figures — will then appoint a full-time diversity advocate, whose job will be to ensure fairness, transparency and respect for applicants and probationary firefighters.
Presumably neither of these people will actually fight fires, but that’s what the rank and file are for.
The city also will “use best efforts” to recruit black applicants in numbers that reflect their proportion in the age-eligible population as a whole — plus 3 percent. We suspect it will either take more new hires, or the changing of some existing employees’ duties, to be so precise.
It also will give city residents who graduate from the Fire Academy first priority for fire companies near where they live, which sounds fine. But what does it mean that the city will “engage with the Department of Education and New York City colleges to create opportunities that wil enhance the ability of minorities and women to pursue careers as firefighters”?
It’s disappointing this lawsuit ever had to be filed, and obviously the settlement raises some questions. But at least now we can move on, and hope that the FDNY can focus on ... firefighting.