By Matthew Chayes And Gary Dymski, Newsday
NEW YORK — New York City has agreed to settle a civil-rights lawsuit accusing its fire department of intentionally discriminating in hiring minorities.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the U.S. Justice Department, in announcing the agreement Tuesday, said the city will pay about $98 million to resolve allegations the FDNY engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against African-American and Hispanic applicants for the entry-level firefighter position by using two discriminatory written tests in 1999 and 2002.
The agreement in principle will be incorporated into a consent decree that is subject to a fairness hearing and must be approved by the district court, according to a release Tuesday from the Justice Department.
The lawsuit originated in 2007 when the department filed its complaint alleging that the FDNY’s use of the two written tests violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by disproportionately screening out African-American and Hispanic applicants for the entry-level firefighter position, the release said.
The settlement is yet another break with the Bloomberg administration for the de Blasio administration.
Under the settlement, the city will pay money to applicants alleging FDNY discrimination, as well as enact new policies intended to curb future discrimination and address allegations of past discrimination, said Jen Nessel, a spokeswoman for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a group of black firefighters who allege FDNY discrimination.
The settlement also includes back pay, Nessel said.
The settlement was the latest about-face on civil-rights lawsuits for the fledgling de Blasio administration.
Earlier this year, de Blasio’s lawyers settled a Bloomberg-era suit in which civil rights lawyers accused the NYPD of stopping, questioning and frisking mostly black and Latino young men, 90 percent of whom were not arrested or issued tickets. Weeks later, the administration dropped another Bloomberg-era lawsuit, one seeking to block a law allowing suits against individual cops for racial profiling.
“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,” de Blasio said in a news release Tuesday.
He also said the settlement will move New York City one step closer to his administration’s goal of “promoting diversity and equal access in every sector across our five boroughs.”
De Blasio, as a mayoral candidate last year, criticized the diversity of the police and fire departments.
The case was set to go to trial March 31 at federal district court in Brooklyn.
The FDNY was 84 percent white as of December, FDNY spokeswoman Elisheva Zakheim said earlier this month. It was 92 percent white in 2002, she said. The city was 44 percent white in the 2010 census.
Photo: Cisc1970 via Flickr