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$98 Million Settlement Reached In FDNY Discrimination Case

FDNY patches (file/credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

FDNY patches (file/credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A black firefighters’ group that had sued New York City, alleging discrimination, said Tuesday that minority fire department applicants will be eligible to receive back pay totaling $98 million.

The settlement of the 7-year-old case was announced by lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represented the Vulcan Society. They say the figure includes more than $6 million to cover lost medical payments.

The city said the figure includes back pay, fringe benefits and interest to the test takers. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people would be affected by the settlement.

“The brave men and women of the FDNY work tirelessly to keep us safe from harm’s way – and our administration is committed to ensuring every New Yorker who seeks to take on this heroic role has a fair opportunity to join the ranks. This administration is fully committed to promoting diversity and equal access in every sector across our five boroughs, and this settlement will move New York City one step closer to this goal,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We’re pleased this case has been settled and look forward to our next firefighter exam when we hope to attract even more people of color than the 19,000 who took the last test in 2012,” said Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano.

“When we see any member of our community excluded from an opportunity to succeed, it is our responsibility to act. Today, this administration has taken a historic step forward with a settlement that will rectify past harm and increase diversity in FDNY’s ranks. This settlement will not only compensate those affected by the FDNY’s civil service exams, but also ensure the FDNY has the capacity, support and structures in place to build a stronger and more diverse department in the years to come,” said Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter of the city’s Law Department.

“We commend the city for its commitment to rectifying past discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic firefighter applicants,” stated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch for the Eastern District of New York. “We look forward to a new era in which African-American and Hispanic firefighters are full and equal participants in the FDNY’s proud tradition of protecting and serving the people of the city of New York.”

Among other things, the Vulcan Society‘s lawyers said the FDNY will create an executive position for diversity.

“Our side is particularly happy because the new administration appears to be open and willing to recognize that there has been a problem over decades and that it’s time to make changes, and that has been very encouraging,” Richard Levy, an attorney for the Vulcan Society, told 1010 WINS.

“This resolution will help ensure that those who seek to serve as firefighters in New York City have an equal opportunity to do so, regardless of their race,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West.

The settlement pre-empts a trial that had been scheduled to start this month.

The FDNY didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In May 2013, an appeals court ruled that the FDNY must undergo court supervision for five years to ensure it doesn’t discriminate against blacks and Hispanics in its hiring practices.

In the fall of 2011, federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis appointed an independent monitor to oversee the recruitment, testing and hiring of new firefighters for at least 10 years.

Garaufis took the unusual step after concluding the city had failed to ensure that enough blacks and minorities were hired. Litigants said less than 10 percent of the 11,200 uniformed firefighters in the city were black or Hispanic, even though more than half of the city’s 8 million residents identified with a racial minority group.

The FDNY launched a recruitment campaign in 2012 aimed at attracting more female and minority applicants.

In June 2013, five female Emergency Medical Service officers announced a $1 million settlement of a 7-year-old gender discrimination lawsuit against New York City, breaking what their attorney called the department’s “female firewall.” EMS is part of the Fire Department.

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