New York Fire Department Sued for Gender Discrimination in Hiring

A female applicant for the Mount Vernon Fire Department has filed suit claiming the city’s use of physical abilities performance criteria to rank candidates unlawfully discriminates against women. Brittany Montana filed suit against the City of Mount Vernon in US District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging a violation of federal and state discrimination law.

Montana had all the prerequisites, and passed the written and the physical abilities tests for appointment to the department. The selection process is governed by a candidate’s rank order on a civil service list. However, according to the complaint:

  • The sole basis to determine an applicant’s number on this eligible list is their performance on four (4) timed physical tests.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants’ hiring practices, including the practice of administering the written examination as a pass/fail test and ranking the eligible list solely on the basis of physical test times predicates an applicant’s number—and thus likelihood of being hired—on arbitrary performance statistics that do not measure an applicant’s ability to perform the essential tasks of a firefighter.
  • Instead, Defendants’ hiring practices for the position of firefighter have a discriminatory impact on female applicants and effectively preclude qualified female applicants from appointment as firefighters.
  • Ultimately, regardless of how well Plaintiff or any other female applicant may perform on the written portion of the exam, Defendants will not hire her as a firefighter unless she performs these physical tasks faster than many, if not most, of the male applicants.
  • As such, despite Plaintiff’s qualifications, Defendants have failed to hire her and have instead hired male candidates of equal or lesser qualification.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants’ hiring practices do not reflect merit-based considerations or fitness for duty but are instead inherently discriminatory against female applicants, as seen through the impermissible lack of female firefighters in the MVFD.

The physical abilities test includes seven components, three of which are pass-fail, and four of which are timed. The pass-fail tests include climbing an aerial ladder; removing a 14-foot ladder from a truck and replacing it; and scaling a 5-foot tall wall. The four timed tests are:

  • Use a rope to hoist a 50-pound weight to platform 20 feet high and then lower it to the ground;
  • Use a rope to pull a dry section of hose weighing approximately 52 pounds, from the ground to the top of the drill tower which is approximately 64 feet tall;
  • 60-yard unimpaired sprint followed by a run pulling a 90-foot section of hose to the starting place;
  • Carry a 100-foot section of hose, weighing approximately 52 pounds, from the ground to the 5th floor of the drill tower and back down to the starting place

Montana points to the fact that physical abilities should not be the sole criteria by which candidates are ranked, and that doing so violates the mandate of merit testing. She points to the fact that city’s police department uses different metrics for men and women as further evidence of discrimination in the fire department.

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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