NY Judge Finds Discrimination in Firefighter Tests

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on January 19, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A new chapter in the continuing story of whether written tests for firefighter and police officer positions discriminate against minority applicants comes with reports that a federal judge believes that in New York, they do. On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis found not only a pattern and practice of racial discrimination against African Americans sitting for firefighter tests in New York, but actual "intentional discrimination."

The finding of intentional discrimination is unusual, NYU Law professor Elise C. Boddie told the New York Times. "I can't recall there ever being a finding of intentional racial discrimination in a pattern-and-practice case against the city. I would say this is pretty big." This case, like that recently filed in New Jersey, was based upon action by the Dept. of Justice. In this case, Judge Garaufis found the city intentionally discriminated against potential minority firefighters in part because it had been notified for years of the discriminatory results of the firefighter tests and had done nothing to remedy the situation. The judge found that other city services had made real progress integrating their ranks, but the fire department had "stagnated and at times retrogressed."

The judge did not find Mayor Bloomberg and other high city officials personally liable for the racial discrimination under a theory of limited immunity that exempts officials from liability for discretionary decisions. The mayor testified in a deposition he did not recall receiving a report outlining stark differences in exam pass rates between white and minority applicants. 

The parties in the New Jersey case may well take note of the judge's strong language here. The judge found the discrimination was not a "one-time mistake or the product of benign neglect. It was a part of a pattern, practice and policy of intentional discrimination against black applicants that has deep historical antecedents and uniquely disabling effects."

A remedy has not yet been decided on by the court.

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