Suit Alleges FDNY’s Background Check System is Racially Biased

A man who was rejected from the FDNY following a background check is suing the department for race discrimination.

Andre J. Laurent claims he was wrongly rejected from the hiring process for FDNY due to consideration of factors prohibited by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He also claims he was falsely accused of failing disclose required information and discriminated against on account of his race.

Laurent, an African American, was a class-participant in the 2007 Vulcan Society lawsuit against the city. Upon settlement of the suit he was awarded $104,492.25 for race discrimination, and given preference in hiring making him eligible for retroactive seniority and benefits.

Laurent claims that background investigators wrongly rejected his application because of his race, and that the background process illegally discriminates against African Americans.  From the complaint:

  • THE CITY OF NEW YORK as an employer, upon information and belief, does not monitor the application and review process including evaluating an applicant’s prior employment history, arrest and conviction records results to ensure there is no disparate treatment or disparate impact upon applicants due to race.
  • Plaintiff alleges in 1978, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) adopted the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (“UGESP”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Plaintiff alleges defendant THE CITY OF NEW YORK as an employer, upon information and belief, is not in compliance with the UGESP.
  • Plaintiff alleges Examination No.: 2000, was administered under the supervision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, pursuant to the litigation of the United States and Vulcan Society, et al. v. City of New York, 07 cv 2067, where it was alleged defendant THE CITY OF NEW YORK through its Candidate Investigation Division (CID) and Personnel Review Board (PRB) intentionally discriminated against African-American applicants during the application and review process for the position of Firefighter, Fire Department City of New York.
  • Plaintiff alleges on or about February 6, 2013, he completed a Comprehensive Personnel Document (CPD) and submitted it to defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK and JOHN DOE’S 1-10, for the application and review process. The application and review process consists of evaluating his prior employment history, arrest and conviction records to assess his suitability for appointment to the position of Firefighter, Fire Department City of New York.
  • Plaintiff alleges during the alleged review of the CPD including evaluating his prior employment history, arrest and conviction records, defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK and JOHN DOE’S 1-10 “falsely” accused him of “making false statements and intentionally failing to disclose information” in violation of Civil Service Law 50(a)(4), (f) and (g).
  • Plaintiff alleges defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK and JOHN DOE’S 1-10 “falsely” accused him of failing to disclose his arrest history and requested written statements to explain the alleged omissions.
  • Plaintiff alleges defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK and JOHN DOE’S 1-10 “falsely” accusing him of failing to disclose an arrest on or about April 22, 1995, for Criminal Mischief: Intent to Damage Property.
  • Plaintiff alleges on or about November 4, 2013, he provided a written statement to defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK and JOHN DOE’S 1-10, in essence describing while he shopped in a store, an acquaintance tossed a M80 firework inside and both arrested.
  • The acquaintance pled guilty and the charge against him dismissed.
  • Plaintiff alleges the written statement strongly suggests the arrest was “false” and race may have been a factor.
  • Plaintiff alleges on or about January 17, 2014, defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK; JOHN DOE’S 1-10 and JOHN DOE’S 11-20 determined he was “Not Qualified” due to his Arrest/Criminal History.
  • Plaintiff alleges on or about June 30, 2015, he filed an Article 78 appeal with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of the Bronx, Index No.: 260595-2015, seeking to annul the CID, PRB and CSC’S determinations as “arbitrary and capricious.”
  • Plaintiff alleges on or about August 6, 2015, the federal special master in the United States and Vulcan Society, et al. v. City of New York, 07 cv 2067, approved his claims of race discrimination during the application and review process for the position of Firefighter, Fire Department City of New York and awarded him $104,492.25.
  • Plaintiff alleges there are no perfect candidates but despite the rulings in the United States and Vulcan Society, et al. v. City ofNew York, 07 cv 2067, defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK; JOHN DOE’S 1-10 and JOHN DOE’S 11-20 continue to intentionally treat candidates differently due to their race.
  • Plaintiff alleges defendants’ THE CITY OF NEW YORK; JOHN DOE’S 1-10 and JOHN DOE’S 11-20 intentionally treat Caucasian applicants for the position of Firefighter, Fire Department City of New York with similar allegations of arrest/criminal history, omission of material facts, and failure to disclosure material facts more favorably and approve them for hire.

The suit alleges race discrimination under federal, state and local law; and failure to train, supervise, and discipline those responsible for conducting background investigations.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Laurent v NY

The suit was filed last September but is in the news again amidst comparisons of Laurent’s treatment with that of Joseph Cassano, who recently graduated from the FDNY fire academy. Cassano, son of former Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, resigned from FDNY’s EMS Division in 2013 following the revelation that he posted a series of racist and anti-Semitic social media comments. Laurent filed an amended complaint earlier this year pointing to Cassano’s rehiring as an EMT in 2014, and his appointment as a firefighter this year, as evidence of disparate treatment between whites and African Americans.

Here is a copy of the amendment complaint: Laurent v NY Amended Complaint

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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