Fire Law Headlines in FDNY and Dallas

Its been a busy few days from the Fire Law perspective and I am trying to catch up with some of the major headlines from across the country.

The city of New York received a favorable ruling from the 2nd Circuit yesterday in the historic FDNY race discrimination lawsuit. The FDNY had been crucified for the past three years in Federal District Court by the trial judge, Nicholas Garaufis.

Judge Garaufis ruled that not only had the city committed unintentional discrimination (disparate impact… ie. statistical discrimination) in its selection process for FDNY, but that by continuing to use a selection process that showed a disparate impact over the course of decades the city committed intentional (disparate treatment) discrimination.

Based on the unintentional (disparate impact) discrimination, Judge Garaufis invalidated the use of tests that showed a disparate impact, and ordered the appointment of a Special Master to oversee the hiring process. Due to the intentional (disparate treatment) discrimination finding he ordered a more “robust” array of remedial actions, including racial preferences/hiring quotas, $128 million in damages to be paid to minority applicants who were not selected, and the creation of an oversight monitor for 10 years to ensure necessary changes were implemented.

The city did not appeal the disparate impact finding, but rather focused narrowly on Judge Garaufis’ disparate treatment finding. The city also alleged that the judge had lost his objectivity in the case.

The 2nd Circuit agreed with the city that the finding of intentional discrimination (disparate treatment) was improper, and sent that part of the case back for a trial on the merits. The court concluded Judge Garaufis had not lost his objectivity, but ruled he should not preside over the trial.

The court reversed all of Judge Garaufis’ remedies associated with the disparate treatment finding, although the court agreed the oversight monitor should remain in effect for five years.

Since the ruling both sides have been declaring victory. New York City Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo released a statement saying: “We are extremely pleased that the Second Circuit recognized significant problems in the manner in which the District Court handled the case.”

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Dana Lossia, countered that “The court monitor will oversee the FDNY’s hiring practices until 2017. That type of order is only issued and affirmed if there is a true serious issue.”

Here is a copy of the ruling. US v City of New York

More on the story.


And briefly…. Dallas Fire-Rescue reached a settlement in the 2009 sexual harassment suit filed by Leanne Siri-Edwards. Siri-Edwards was the civilian executive who was brought in to help newly hire Fire Chief Eddie Burns manage the department.

The lawsuit claimed that “Pervasive, severe, outrageous and obscene acts of discrimination, hostility, disrespect and harassment by [Dallas Fire-Rescue] leaders have slowly dismantled [Siri-Edwards’] reputation and her spirit."

The settlement calls for Siri-Edwards to be paid $390,000.

More on the story.

For my homies… I will get to the North Kingstown ruling by weeks end.  I am still trying to digest the ruling… despite the sense of nausea I get reading it… I keep telling myself "we are a country of laws, not men"… but all too often we see judges who let their political ideology corrupt their reasoning… but I digress.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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