NYC Firefighter Test Found Intentionally Discriminatory

Teacher & Employment Testing

FairTest Examiner, May 2010

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A federal judge has ruled that New York City firefighter recruitment exams used between 1999 and 2007 were biased against African-Americans and Hispanics. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis found that the written tests had "discriminatory effects and little relationship to the job of a firefighter." Garaufis also concluded that the "examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters."

The intentional discrimination ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Vulcan Society, an organization representing African-American firefighters, initiated the litigation, which grew out of a 2002 complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Center for Constitutional Rights, a pro-bono legal advocacy group, represented plaintiffs.

Only 3.4 percent of New York City firefighters were African-American and 6.7 percent Hispanic in 2007. At the same time, more than half of the city’s total population was Black or Hispanic. According to documents filed in the case, New York City had the least diverse fire department of any major municipality in the country.

Garaufis ruled that the city failed to show that the exams "actually tested the abilities it intended to test." He continued, “[T]he City’s use of written exams with discriminatory impacts and little relation to the job of firefighter was not a one-time mistake or the product of benign neglect. It was part of a pattern, practice, and policy of intentional discrimination against black applicants that has deep historical antecedents and uniquely disabling effects.”

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with white New Haven, Connecticut, firefighters who claimed their scores or a promotional exam were thrown out because not enough minorities qualified. However, other federal district courts have recently found local firefighter exams racially biased in Chicago ( and Boston (

The New York City case now moves into a remedial phase, where plaintiffs will seek full compensation for the victims of the discriminatory tests and changes in the city’s firefighter hiring practices.

The U.S. District Court decision in the New York City case is online at