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Court Sets $128 Million in Damages in Minority Discrimination Lawsuit Against New York’s Fire Department

WASHINGTON – A federal court announced last week that it had determined the aggregate amount of back pay damages owed to African-American and Hispanic applicants who were discriminated against by the city of New York in the hiring of entry-level firefighters for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).  As part of the remedy for the city’s violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the court calculated the aggregate amount of gross wage losses at $128,696,803.  The city of New York will have an opportunity to reduce the aggregate amount of back pay by proving that discrimination victims mitigated their losses through interim employment.

The United States filed its complaint in May 2007, which alleged that the city’s pass/fail and rank order use of two written examinations, administered in 1999 and 2002, resulted in disparate impact upon African-American and Hispanic applicants and were not job-related and consistent with business necessity, in violation of Title VII.  In July 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York agreed and found that the city’s use of these two written examinations violated Title VII.  Title VII’s prohibitions of discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion proscribe not only intentional discrimination, but also the use of employment practices (e.g., written tests) that result in disparate impact. Unless the employer can prove that such practices are job related and consistent with business necessity, employment practices that disproportionately screen out applicants based upon race and national origin do not identify the best qualified candidates and violate the law.  In its July 2009 order, the court found that the city’s pass/fail use of the challenged written examinations did not usefully distinguish between candidates who were qualified to perform the job of firefighter, nor did the rank-order use of the exam meaningfully distinguish between candidates who were more or less qualified to do the job.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate discrimination in employment on the basis of race or national origin, whether that discrimination is intentional or the result of employment practices that have discriminatory impact,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The court’s order will provide relief to potentially thousands of individuals who were harmed by such discriminatory practices in New York City.”

“FDNY’s hiring practices have deprived many qualified African-Americans and Hispanics of the opportunity to serve the people of New York City as firefighters,” said Loretta E. Lynch,  U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  “The court’s order sends a strong message to FDNY and to all other employers, public and private, that they must comply with the requirements of Title VII.”

According to the court’s order, a process for distributing monetary damages to individuals harmed by the city’s discriminatory practices will be established in a future order.

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