Federal Judge Rules that New York Fire Department Discriminates Against African-American and Latino Applicants
In United States v. City of New York, Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York recently held that the New York City Fire Department’s use of entrance examinations in hiring firefights constituted race and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court found that black and Latino applicants disproportionately failed the exams and those who passed were placed disproportionately lower on the fire department’s hiring lists as a result of their test scores.
The entrance exam in question was used by the city as part of its application process for firefighters from 1999 to 2007, during which time 5,300 entry-level firefighters were hired. During this period, approximately 3,100 applicants were black and 4,200 were Latino, but the City only hired 184 black and 461 Latino firefighters. This was despite the fact that African-Americans and Latinos together represent more than half of the city’s population. For example, in 2002, 25% of the city’s population was black and 27% were Latino. However, African-Americans and Latinos represented only 2.6% and 3.7% of the city’s firefighters respectively. The proportion of minority firefighters in New York City is much smaller than in other large cities.
Based on these statistics, Judge Garaufis held that the plaintiffs made out a prima facie case of disparate impact discrimination. The court also held that the city failed to present sufficient evidence that the exams were justified by legitimate business considerations because the exams were not sufficiently related to the job of a firefighter.
The recent Supreme Court case, Ricci v. DeStafano presented the reverse situation. In that case, the city of New Haven, Connecticut, set aside the results of a examination based on its fear that use of the test results could result in liability for disparate impact discrimination. The Supreme Court held that New Haven did not have a strong basis in evidence that its exams were not job-related and, therefore, its refusal to honor the test results violated Title VII. Judge Garaufis distinguished Ricci by framing the question at issue as whether the plaintiffs had shown that New York’s exams actually had a disparate impact on African-American and Latinos for positions as entry-level firefighters. According to Judge Garaufis, Ricci did not confront the same question. In addition, the court pointed out that the unlike New York, New Haven took greater steps to ensure that its exams tested the relevant knowledge and skills that would reliably predict which applications would best perform in their jobs.