A Victory for Minority Firefighters

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Black and Latino firefighters in New York have scored a major victory.

“We put in a summary judgment motion saying that the case is obvious. That we are in the right; that we want the judge to rule this without going trial. New York City is the worst in terms of hiring Blacks,” said Paul Washington, a firefighter who is African American.

On July 22, New York City firefighters won a long-winded battle to enforce equal opportunity hiring practices and to combat discrimination. According to Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, who has been handling this case, the New York City Fire Department has been using examinations with traces of discriminatory residue.

These tests have been used as a means to exclude qualified minorities from serving as firefighters in New York City, opponents said. The ruling that this test was unlawful came in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice  against the FDNY department in 2007, charging them with displaying prejudice against potential African American and Latino firefighters. The test that these groups were taking did not correlate with the job skills, according to The Center for Constitutional Rights.

For many firefighters across the tri-state area, this victory has been something worth salvaging.

“I have experienced discrimination. The big thing was the judge’s decision. That Blacks don’t do as well on the tests. They have preparatory classes, but the whites start off being able to do better. I was very happy to hear about this outcome. The fight was well worth it. It is one more step down the road and a significant step forward,” said Washington.

Washington, a captain at Engine 234 in Crown Heights is one of the few African American firefighters within his position.

“There are about 70 firefighters in the firehouse, and about seven of them are Black,” he added.

The lack of diversity within New York City is not uncommon; but, within the Fire Department,  this trend may change.

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