FDNY Fire Inspectors Allege Race Discrimination In Pay and Safety Equipment

Five FDNY fire inspectors along with their union have filed a class action suit claiming their wages and safety concerns have been ignored as part of a “long history of racial discrimination at the Fire Department of New York.”

Darryl R. Chalmers, Darren Connors, Glenn Mendez, James Nova, Fatima Q. Rosemond, and AFSCME District Council 37 Local 2507 filed suit last week, citing disparate treatment discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and disparate treatment under NY City Human Rights Law. The 62-page 226 paragraph complaint was filed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

  • Before 1990, the great majority of FPIs were white employees. During the 1990’s, racial minorities surged into the ranks of FPIs, and for most of the past 15-20 years only about 30% of FPIs who have self-identified a single race have identified themselves as “white” employees.
  • As of June 30, 2019, there were about 400 FPIs.
  • This racially mixed force has been remarkably effective. In 1990, New York City experienced 275 civilian fire-related deaths. In each of the last 14 years, the City has suffered fewer than 100 fire-related deaths.
  • In addition to saving lives, the work of FPIs produces a significant source of earned income for the Fire Department of New York (“FDNY”).
  • Currently the FDNY receives revenue of over $100 million per year, that is, over $200,000 per FPI, from the inspections, licenses, fees, and fines that FPIs issue.
  • This revenue stream has roughly doubled during the period from about 2005 until today. During the past 15 years, FPI work has generated over $1.25 billion.
  • Notwithstanding FPIs’ stellar performance in preventing fires, saving lives, and generating revenue, the City engages in racial discriminates against them by paying them much less than the building inspectors assigned to the City’s Department of Buildings who perform similar work.
  • Since at least FY 2008, the City has paid FPIs salaries that are substantially lower than the salaries for the City’s building inspectors (“BIs”) who work for the Department of Buildings (“DOB”).
  • Adjusting for differences in hours worked, the City has paid FPIs salaries that are lower than BI salaries.
  • The pay gap has ranged from a low of about $1,600 in 2010 to a high of about $9,000 in recent years.
  • The City engages in this discrimination because of the difference in the racial composition of FPIs and BIs.
  • In contrast to the 30% of FPIs who are white, about 50% of Bis are white.
  • The pay discrimination that FPIs experience is part of a broader pattern of discrimination inflicted on FPIs by the City. FDNY issues FPIs fewer and inferior safety equipment and protective clothing than it gives to FDNY’s largely white firefighter force and racially mixed (about 50% white) emergency medical service (“EMS”) force.
  • It requires FPIs to wear patches on their clothes differentiating them from firefighters and EMS employees and prohibits FPI supervisors from wearing the same type of shirt that all other supervisors of uniformed services wear.
  • It excludes FPIs from award ceremonies. Most other municipalities do not impose this type of second-class status on their fire protection inspectors.

The suit seeks class action status. Here is a copy of the 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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