2011-06-17 / Top Stories

Garaufis To Set Up Special Master For FDNY Controversy

By Howard Schwach


Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis. Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis. A Brooklyn federal judge said last week that he might appoint a referee to weigh claims of “potentially thousands” of black and Hispanic fire department applicants who say they never had a chance to get a fire department job because the entrance exam discriminated against minority candidates.

The “Special Master” would have the power to award back pay and grant priority hiring and seniority privileges to the would-be firefighters, none of whom ever served a day on the job.

Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis had ruled previously that the test discriminated against blacks and Hispanics and, in October of last year, ordered the city not to hire any firefighters from the current social service lists unless it agreed to a quota system dictated by the court.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused.

Garaufis, also ruled earlier that many of the adult homes that dot the Rockaway peninsula restrict the freedom of their patients and ordered that they be moved into assisted living situations throughout the community.

Bloomberg hoped that Garaufis would reverse his ruling on the firefighters and allow for some hiring from the disputed list, arguing that new hires were necessary to maintain manning levels and to keep control of overtime.

Garaufis made clear that he wasn’t buying the mayor’s argument.

“The Fire Department’s use of discriminatory testing procedures is a decades-old problem,” wrote Garaufis in his ruling. He emphasized that the city can still hire the personnel it needs — as long as it uses one of five courtapproved methods for ensuring that firefighter recruits better represent a cross-section of the city’s population.

In September, the city had rejected the options, arguing that they represented “some form of race-based quota.”

The city had also argued that the judge’s earlier temporary ruling was creating a manpower shortage, endangering the public’s safety.

Setting a special master would address one element of a lawsuit that was filed in 2002 by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters.

Each applicant that was turned down after taking the test would be granted a hearing by the special master before a monetary determination could be made.

That process could drag the legal process on for years, experts say.

The second element of the ten-yearold lawsuit, the fairness of the test itself, will be considered by Garaufis in a non-jury trial beginning on August 1.

Since Garaufis has already ruled the test to be discriminatory on the ground that too few minorities passed, fire officials hold little hope that he will now find that the test is not discriminatory.

The city is presently working on a new civil service test for firefighters.

Each applicant that was turned down after taking the test would be granted a hearing by the special master before a monetary determination could be made.

That process could drag the legal process on for years, experts say.

The second element of the ten-yearold lawsuit, the fairness of the test itself, will be considered by Garaufis in a non-jury trial beginning on August 1.

Since Garaufis has already ruled the test to be discriminatory on the ground that too few minorities passed, fire officials hold little hope that he will now find that the test is not discriminatory.

The city is presently working on a new civil service test for firefighters.

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