2011-08-12 / Top Stories

FDNY Chief Defends Hiring Practices

Says Recruitment Just Fine
By Howard Schwach

Under direct orders of a federal judge to appear in his Brooklyn courtroom and talk about the hiring practices of the New York City Fire Department, department Commissioner Sal Cassano summed up his opinion of the judge and the contention that the department has discriminated against minorities.

When Judge Nicholas Garaufis asked why the FDNY was opposed to setting a goal for the number of minorities passing a January civil service test, Cassano said, “I have a goal. My goal is to get the most qualified candidates as possible as firefighters and to diversify the department as much as I can.”

Cassano added that the Fire Department has measurably increased its number of black applicants while rebuilding its ranks a decade after the losses from 9/11.

“Even as we’re improving, recovering and rebuilding, we’ve still had it in mind to focus on diversity,” the commissioner testified at a two-hour proceeding in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

Cassano’s appearance before Garaufis comes amid bitter litigation in which the judge found the city to have discriminated against minority candidates through the statistical effects of two prior entrance exams, in 1999 and 2002.

Last year, Garaufis, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Vulcan Society, a black firefighters organization — said that the exams were part of a pattern of intentional discrimination by the city.

In response to questions from Pamela Miller, the city’s lawyer, Cassano said that of the 16,825 people who have applied so far to take the exam, 15.2 percent were black. That figure, he said, was almost twice the percentage of blacks who applied during the same time period for the last test, which was given in 2007.

“Never in the history of the Fire Department have our numbers been as good,” Cassano said.

When pushed on the question of the low number of minority firefighters now in the department, the commissioner said, “All we can do as a department is recruit as many minorities as we can. If you look at the results of our recruitment process so far, I don’t see how anyone can deny that the department has done its utmost to get minority candidates to apply for this exam.”

Garaufis ruled that the 1999 and 2002 tests were biased under a concept known as “disparate impact,” in which discrimination can be inferred from statistics: if minorities fare worse than whites, a circumstantial case can be made. He then extended his decision by ruling that the discrimination was intentional. He did not find that specific questions on the exam were discriminatory in their content or design.

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