United States and Vulcan Society v. City of New York is a class action lawsuit that charges the New York City Fire Department with racially discriminatory hiring practices that violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States Constitution, the New York State Constitution, and New York State and City human rights law. The case focuses on the discriminatory impact of written exams used by the FDNY to screen applicants as well as the discriminatory hiring process following the tests. For decades, despite consistent complaints not only from the Vulcan Society but also from internal administrators, the City used a written exam that had never been validated to measure the skills necessary to be a good firefighter. The case is part of CCR’s long history of fighting for racial justice.
In 2012, after a historic decision finding the City liable for racial discrimination under Title VII and State and City human rights law, the court mandated the creation of a new exam, imposed broad-ranging injunctive relief, and appointed a court monitor to oversee recruitment, hiring, and equal employment opportunity. In spring of 2014, the parties entered into a settlement on the constitutional claims of intentional discrimination that awarded $98 million for Black and Latino victims of discrimination, imposed new recruitment goals for the FDNY, enhanced education opportunities for firefighter applicants, and created the position of Chief Diversity Officer to ensure equal opportunity within the department.
When CCR filed the first EEOC charge in 2002, New York City’s fire department was 2.9 percent Black, in a city where 27 percent of the residents are Black. New York City also had the least diverse fire department of any major city in America – only 7.4 percent Black and Latino. At the time, 57 percent of Los Angeles’ firefighters, 51 percent of Philadelphia’s, and 40 percent of Boston’s were people of color. The fire departments were 30 percent Black in Baltimore and 23 percent Black in Chicago. After the case was settled in 2014, with a new, fairer exam and oversight of the firefighter appointment process, the FDNY appointed the most diverse class in its history, with 17 percent Black firefighters and 24 percent Latino firefighters. With the other remedies from the case taking effect, New York City may finally have a fire department that looks like the city it serves.