The Justice Department announced today that it has reached an agreement in principle with the city of New York and intervening plaintiffs to settle an employment discrimination lawsuit involving the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Under the agreement in principle, the city of New York will pay a total of approximately $98 million to resolve allegations that the FDNY engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against African-American and Hispanic applicants for the entry-level firefighter position by using two discriminatory written tests in 1999 and 2002. The parties’ agreement in principle will be incorporated into a consent decree that is subject to a fairness hearing and must be approved by the district court.
“This resolution will help ensure that those who seek to serve as firefighters in New York City have an equal opportunity to do so, regardless of their race,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West. “The agreement we are announcing today – which is the result of the collective efforts of the Justice Department, the private plaintiffs, and the city of New York – not only will compensate victims of discriminatory hiring practices, it will also put in place an entry-level hiring process that should more accurately identify firefighter candidates who are best qualified to do the job.”
“This agreement in principle to settle will provide significant and long-awaited relief to African-American and Hispanic applicants for employment with the FDNY who were harmed by the FDNY’s discriminatory hiring practices,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “We applaud the city of New York and Mayor de Blasio for their efforts to bring this important matter to a resolution. The Department of Justice stands committed to ensuring justice and compensation to those who are victims of unfair employment practices.”
The lawsuit originated in 2007 when the department filed its complaint alleging that the FDNY’s use of two written tests violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by disproportionately screening out African-American and Hispanic applicants for the entry-level firefighter position. The FDNY was unable to show that these screening devices identified the candidates who were best qualified to perform the job of firefighter, as required in order to keep the tests in place.
“We commend the city for its commitment to rectifying past discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic firefighter applicants,” stated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch for the Eastern District of New York. “We look forward to a new era in which African-American and Hispanic firefighters are full and equal participants in the FDNY’s proud tradition of protecting and serving the people of the city of New York.”
Under the terms of the agreement in principle, the FDNY will pay $98 million to those African-American and Hispanic victims of discrimination who filed claim forms and who have already been found eligible for relief by the court. The method of distribution has not yet been determined and must be approved by the court before any money is distributed. With today’s agreement in principle, the parties have committed to streamline the claims process and to expedite the distribution of monetary relief to eligible claimants.
In addition to today’s agreement in principle, the court has already ordered several changes to take place within the FDNY to remedy the city’s discriminatory hiring practices. In September 2012, the court approved the use of an entry-level firefighter exam which was jointly developed by the United States, the intervening plaintiffs and the city. As a result, for the first time in at least 15 years, the FDNY is using an entry-level firefighter exam that accurately predicts which candidates will perform better on the job and complies with Title VII. In May 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on appeal most of an order outlining changes that must be made to the FDNY’s recruiting, post-examination hiring and Equal Employment Opportunities Office processes, and appointing a court monitor to oversee this reform. In addition, the court has ordered the city to appoint up to 293 eligible claimants as priority hires to the FDNY, provided that they take and pass all of the same tests and other steps in the hiring process as the other candidates for appointment with the FDNY. The first groups of priority hires joined the FDNY in July 2013 and January 2014, and additional priority hires are expected to join in July 2014.
The parties expect to release further details about the terms of the proposed settlement agreement in the next few weeks. For more information about this litigation, please see the Department of Justice website. Eligible claimants in this lawsuit may obtain more information about how the settlement affects their claims for relief at this page, which will have updated information about the settlement in the coming days and weeks.