NYFD Hiring Tests Found to be Discriminatory

July 27, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has found that two examinations used to place entry-level New York City firefighters were discriminatory.

In granting summary judgment for the firefighters, U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis said the plaintiffs established a prima facie case that the City’s use of the two written examinations resulted in a disparate impact upon black and Hispanic applicants for the position of entry-level firefighter. The court also concluded that the City failed to present sufficient evidence supporting a business justification for its employment practices.

Garaufis said that federal regulations and existing 2 nd Circuit precedent set forth a principle that municipalities must take adequate measures to ensure that their civil service examinations reliably test the relevant knowledge, skills and abilities that will determine which applicants will best perform their specific public duties. However, he concluded, 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.

“I am aware that the use of multiple-choice examinations is typically intended to apply objective standards to employment decisions. Similarly, I recognize that it is natural to assume that the best performers on an employment test must be the best people for the job. But, the significance of these principles is undermined when an examination is not fair. As Congress recognized in enacting Title VII, when an employment test is not adequately related to the job for which it tests—and when the test adversely affects minority groups—we may not fall back on the notion that better test takers make better employees,” Garaufis wrote in the court opinion.

The plaintiffs in the case identified approximately 3,100 of the examination candidates as black and approximately 4,200 of the examination candidates as Hispanic. Of the 5,300 candidates placed, the city only appointed 184 black firefighters and 461 Hispanic firefighters.

The court also noted that in 2002, the New York City Department of City Planning identified 25% of the City’s residents as black and 27% of its residents as Hispanic; however, only 2.6% of its firefighters were black and 3.7% of its firefighters were Hispanic. When the litigation commenced in 2007, the percentages of black and Hispanic firefighters had increased to just 3.4% and 6.7%, respectively, the opinion said.

Garaufis said “these numbers stand in stark contrast to some of the nation’s other large cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston, where minority firefighters have been represented in significantly higher percentages.”

The court will now consider an appropriate remedy.

The case is United States of America v. City of New York, 1:07-cv-02067-NGG-RLM, 07/22/2009.