United States V. City Of New York FDNY Employment Discrimination Case

Overview of the Case

In May 2007, the United States filed a lawsuit against the City of New York, alleging that the City was engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination in the hiring of entry-level firefighters. Specifically, the United States alleged that the City's use of Written Examinations 7029 and 2043, given between 1999 and 2006, to screen applicants for entry-level firefighter positions, and its decision to rank-order applicants who passed the written examinations for further consideration, had an unlawful disparate impact on black and Hispanic applicants. Go here for more information regarding the claims asserted by the United States.

In September 2007, the Vulcan Society and three individual firefighter applicants (referred to here collectively as the "Plaintiffs-Intervenors") were permitted to intervene in the case filed by the United States. The United States' lawsuit was based partially on employment discrimination charges the Plaintiffs-Intervenors had filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Plaintiffs-Intervenors joined the claims asserted by the United States and also asserted that the City's conduct constituted a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against black applicants. Go here for more information regarding the claims asserted by the Plaintiffs-Intervenors.

Liability-Phase Rulings

On July 22, 2009, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis found that the City of New York had discriminated against black and Hispanic applicants for entry-level firefighter positions in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). The Court’s order summarized the case as follows:

From 1999 to 2007, the New York City Fire Department used written examinations with discriminatory effects and little relationship to the job of a firefighter to select more than 5,300 candidates for admission to the New York City Fire Academy. These examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters. Today, the court holds that New York City’s reliance on these examinations constitutes employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

United States v. City of New York, 637 F. Supp. 2d 77, 79 (E.D.N.Y. 2009). The Court found that the City’s use of the two written examinations as an initial pass/fail hurdle in the selection of firefighters was unlawful under Title VII. The Court also found that the City’s use of applicants’ written examination scores (in combination with their scores on a physical abilities test) to rank-order and process applicants for further consideration for employment violated Title VII.

On January 13, 2010, the Court entered an order finding the City liable for intentional discrimination against black applicants based on the additional claims asserted by the Plaintiffs-Intervenors. The Court stated:

[T]he City’s use of written exams with discriminatory impacts and little relation to the job of firefighter was not a one-time mistake or the product of benign neglect. It was part of a pattern, practice, and policy of intentional discrimination against black applicants that has deep historical antecedents and uniquely disabling effects.

United States v. City of New York, 683 F. Supp. 2d 225, 273 (E.D.N.Y. 2010).

Relief-Phase Rulings

On January 21, 2010, the Court issued its Preliminary Relief Order outlining the individual relief for black and Hispanic applicants harmed by the City's discriminatory uses of Exam 7029 and Exam 2043 that it intended to award. The Court indicated it would direct the City to compensate victims for lost wages (back pay) and lost seniority and to hire up to 293 victims of the City's discrimination who are currently qualified to be entry-level firefighters. On March 8, 2012, the Court ruled that the City owes up to $128 million in back pay damages for lost wages to victims of the City's discrimination. The Court has also directed the parties to start the claims process to distribute relief to the victims of the City's discrimination.

In December 2011, the Court issued an injunctive relief order directing the City to make changes to its discriminatory practices and their effects. Among other things, the Court has directed the City to improve its recruiting, post-examination screening, and equal employment opportunity compliance practices under the supervision of a Court Monitor. The City has filed an appeal of this injunctive relief order.

For more information about this case, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Case Timeline and Court Decisions.

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Updated August 6, 2015

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