This week, a federal judge issued a landmark ruling on an employment discrimination case and castigated New York City on its hiring practices within its fire department. Nearly 40 years after a court tried to get the city's fire department to integrate its ranks, a new federal judge has issued an opinion lambasting city officials who continue to shut out black and Hispanic candidates for jobs and promotions.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis doesn't think city officials will stop the discrimination. So he's going to appoint a monitor, someone who will be in place for at least 10 years to oversee the fire department's complicated process of recruitment, hiring, promotions and more. The judge is taking nominations from both sides for prospective monitors.
The ruling is blistering, and Judge Garaufis reserves some of his most scathing observations for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He details efforts taken to alert Bloomberg to the fire department's hiring problems: a report from the city's Equal Employment Practices Commission; a letter from then-Public Advocate Mark Green, who specifically warned Bloomberg and the fire commissioner of "segregation"; and numerous complaints from members of Congress, members of the New York City Council, and citizens. The Village Voice has the opinion.
The problem isn't new to the New York City fire department. In 1973, a judge mandated hiring quotas to increase the number of minority firefighters, as the New York Times (paywall) reports. But in the judge's opinion this week, by 2001 the city had half as many black firefighters as it did in 1965. Today about a quarter of city residents are black and about 97 percent of firefighters are white.
Judge Garaufis declares when mayor Bloomberg and his officials should have asked tough questions "about the city's abysmal track record of hiring black and Hispanic firefighters, the Bloomberg Administration dug in and fought back." Regarding the discrimination, he adds "a coalition of black New York City firefighters and President George W. Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, decided their only recourse was to sue the City of New York to make it stop."
When the subject of equal employment opportunity came up during a deposition, Judge Garaufis highlighted this exchange between Bloomberg and attorney Richard Levy:
LEVY: Do you consider yourself responsible for seeing that EEO laws and policies are followed?
BLOOMBERG: You just asked that question. I don't know what the word 'responsibility' is and I can't answer your question.
LEVY: Well do you consider yourself responsible in any sense?
BLOOMBERG: I don't know what the word 'responsible' is, counsel.
LEVY: Did you ever hear the phrase 'The buck stops with me,' or 'The buck stops with him'?
BLOOMBERG: I have heard that.
LEVY: Does that refer to you?
BLOOMBERG: I have heard that."
According to Courthouse News, the judge added "Mayor Bloomberg claimed to be unable to recall the City's EEO policies - including the one he issued."
Bloomberg has responded 'forcefully' to the ruling, according to the Wall Street Journal, saying "The judge was not elected to run the city and you can rest assured that we'll be in court for a long time," he said.
But the New York Times's editorial page (paywall) is asking city officials to drop the fight, saying mayor Bloomberg's position is combative and hurtful, and that it's well past time for the city to correct itself.