FDNY Sued Again Over Race Discrimination

Seven African American civilian employees of FDNY have filed a 59 page civil suit in federal court alleging that wide-ranging and systemic race discrimination persists in the department.

The suit was filed December 1, 2017 seeking class action status for three groups of individuals, identified as:

  • the “Job Selection Class” – consisting of qualified African-American candidates who applied and were rejected for civilian or EMS jobs;
  • the “Compensation Class” – consisting of civilian African-Americans employed by the Fire Department below the level of department leader who are the victims of racially discriminatory compensation practices;
  • the “EMS Lieutenant Class” – consisting of African-American EMS lieutenants who were disadvantaged in promotion to EMS captain and beyond on account of their race.

The complaint alleges that FDNY has a long-standing history of discriminating against African Americans going back over 100 years. Quoting from the complaint:

  • For well over a century, the Fire Department of New York (the “FDNY”) has engaged in a pattern or practice of systemic, continuous, and intentional discrimination against African American emergency medical services (“EMS”) and non-uniformed (“Civilian”) employees and job applicants in hiring, placement, advancement, and compensation decisions.
  • For about 100 years after the Civil War, white men, primarily of Irish and Italian descent, controlled the FDNY at all levels, from upper management to staff.
  • Token integration began during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but African Americans remained severely underrepresented at all levels of the agency and in all types of jobs.
  • As a result of the broad pattern of racial discrimination, the percentage of African American employees in FDNY as a whole is far less than in other agencies of the New York City government, the percentage of African American employees in higher paying EMS and Civilian jobs in FDNY is far less than in lower compensated jobs, and African American Civilian employees are paid lower salaries or wages than white employees in the same job positions.
  • The interaction of four factors produces these racial disparities in job selections and compensation.
  • First, despite knowing of the statistical racial disparities, FDNY leadership has failed to adopt or implement systematically widely accepted human resources practices that reduce the opportunity for discrimination, including policies and practices in connection with performance appraisals, posting of vacant positions, and monitoring of decisions for patterns of racially skewed outcomes.
  • Second, a culture of in-group favoritism under which white decision-makers favor people with similar backgrounds to themselves has infected the FDNY for generations.
  • Third, a very small group of decision-makers, most notably the Assistant Commissioner for Human Resources and the Assistant Commissioner for Budget & Finance, have contributed to the racial disparities through their decisions to approve or disapprove most proposed job selection and compensation decisions for EMS and Civilian FDNY employees.
  • Finally, the Mayor’s office and other City offices and agencies have failed to exercise control over FDNY’s human resources and diversity practices despite myriad lawsuits, unfavorable reports, and other beacons shining light on the racial discrimination at FDNY. These factors reflect intentional racial discrimination against African American employees, and FDNY’s practices have had a disparate impact on the hiring, advancement, and compensation of African American employees.

The complaint contains two counts, race discrimination under federal law and race discrimination under New York state law. It seeks the appointment of an outside monitor to address the discriminatory practices, in addition to damages, interest, costs and attorneys fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Richardson et al v New York

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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