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New York City Ordered to Pay $128M to Minority Firefighter Applicants

March 12, 2012
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A federal district judge has ordered New York City to pay $128.7 million in back pay in a judgment in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of black and Latino firefighter applicants.

Among other actions in the complex case, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn ruled March 8 in United States of America and the Vulcan Society Inc. vs. the City of New York that "there is no genuine issue as to the amount of aggregate pre-mitigation wage back pay owed through 2010."

The lawsuit originally was filed in 2007. In July 2009, Judge Garaufis ruled that the New York City Fire Department's reliance on two written exams constituted employment discrimination against minorities in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to a statement by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, the total reflects about $82 million for black applicants and $42 million for Latino applicants who either never were hired, or hired late off the eligibility lists for the 1999 and 2002 firefighters exams.

The CCR said the total does not include compensatory damages and additional costs of medical coverage, and the net amount paid by the city will be subject to reductions for the actual earnings of each plaintiff during the period.

The CCR noted the judge also ordered the city to hire 186 black firefighters and 107 Latino firefighters.

"After decades of exclusion, (the judge's) decision brings (New York City) one step closer to a fire department that will welcome all qualified applicants, of any race," plaintiffs attorney Richard Levy, a partner with New York-based Levy Ratner P.C., said in a statement.

"We believe the court's opinion is erroneous and, in any event, is the first step in a lengthy process," New York City corporation counsel Michael A. Cardozo said in a statement. "As the court itself noted, any damages the city ultimately must pay will be reduced by the amount each member of the class earned. When all the proceedings have been completed, the damages if any, that the city will have to pay will be far less than $128 million."

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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