New NYC Fire Commissioner Promises to Increase Racial Diversity and Avoid Future Discrimination Lawsuits

The new NYC Fire Department commissioner promised Friday to break from the Department's past history of racial exclusion in hiring.

From the NY Times:

"The new commissioner of the New York Fire Department vowed on Friday to put an end to an era of lawsuits and court orders over the department’s persistent lack of diversity and to lead an effort to attract more minorities.

. . .

Flanked by diverse members of the newest class of recruits, Mr. Nigro, 65, described expanding diversity in the department, whose members are still about 87 percent white, as “a great challenge,” but one he would actively pursue.

“We must no longer wait for a judge’s ruling to tell us what fairness means,” he said. “We must get out front. We must point the way to change.” (link)

In March, the De Blasio administration agreed to settle a class action lawsuit alleging race discrimination in hiring by the NYC Fire Department against African-American and Latino applicants for approximately $100 million in relief to the class.

As the district court found, the NYC Fire Department's history of excluding black applicants was profound:

"Black residents make up 25.6% of New York City’s population; when this case was filed in 2007, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4% of the Department’s force. In other words, in a city of over eight million people, and out of a force with 8,998 firefighters, there were only 303 black firefighters. This pattern of underrepresentation has remained essentially unchanged since at least the 1960s." (link)

As the Second Circuit also observed, this discrimination is nothing recent, and the instant case was not the first time the department had been sued for the same reason:

"Even after [a]  1973 determination that [the NYC Fire Department] hiring exam was invalid because of a racially disparate impact the City’s percentage of black entry level firefighters has remained at or below 4 percent for several decades, and the current percentage of 3.4 percent compares woefully 20 to the 16.6 percent achieved by the city’s Police Department and the 21 61.4 percent achieved by the City’s Corrections Department." (link)

Only time will tell if the NYC Fire Department takes real steps to increase racial diversity and avoid future civil rights litigation.