NEW YORK - New York City must compensate minorities who were prevented from becoming firefighters by the fire department's discriminatory exams and devise new tests that are not biased, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.
Darius Charney, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights which represented a fraternal order of black firefighters, in an email estimated that it could cost the city over US$50 million (S$70.05 million) in back pay and benefits "plus compensatory damages."
Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Jan. 13 ruled that the fire department's written exams screened out hundreds of black applicants, saying "there had been a pattern and practice of intentional discrimination against blacks."
The Vulcan Society, the fraternal order of black firefighters, wanted the judge to impose hiring quotas.
But the Brooklyn-based judge said he was rejecting that solution "at this time," partly because the problem was so long-standing.
"Quotas would provide only a short-term increase in the numbers of black and Hispanic applicants," he said. The judge has said that minorities were underrepresented in the fire department since "at least" the 1960s.
Instead, the judge ruled that 7,400 minority applicants who took the firefighter exams can seek compensation.
And 293 of these individuals who were screened out now qualify for "priority hiring" if they can meet the city's current requirements for firefighters, the judge said. This group should also be offered "retroactive seniority," along with the people whose hiring was delayed, he said.
Further, the fire department must devise new tests for entry-level firefighters, which the judge said he will scrutinize to determine whether they are discriminatory.
Georgia Pestana, a lawyer for the city, in a statement said that the city was still reviewing its options and must ensure that only "qualified individuals" can become firefighters.
"However, an initial examination suggests that today's opinion does not fully address the complex constitutional issues presented - nor does it give proper weight to developments in this area of law," the city's lawyer added.
The case number is: 1:07-cv-02067-NGG -RLM.