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NY Fire Department Accused of Racial Discrimination in Hiring Practices

HOST INTRO: The New York City Fire Department is again facing accusations of racial discrimination. A class action lawsuit filed on December 1st claims, when it comes to hiring and promoting certain workers, the department discriminates based on race. Jennifer Sigl (Sea-gull) reports.

SIGL 1: Annette Richardson has worked for the Fire Department for 11 years. She’s a director of human resources—a job she was promoted to eight years ago. When she got it, she was thrilled.


I felt like that I could advance within the fire department // just like any other person that walks in [0:06]

SIGL 2: But that feeling didn’t last long. Richardson is black and she says she’s realized that no matter how long she stays in her position, she’ll be making less—much less, like $20-thousand a year less—than the white man who held the same position before her.


They can see I’m worth getting equal pay to what my predecessor was making or at least close to it. You know something should happen, but nothing did [0:08]

SIGL 3: That’s why Richardson is one of seven FDNY employees suing the Department. And it’s not just the pay. Richardson says there are other barriers for African Americans trying to rise the ranks. They don’t get promoted as much. She estimates she’s applied for at least six different positions and only been interviewed for two.


They don’t bother to interview everyone that applies for it and then make a determination because they’ve already predetermined who they want [0:07]

SIGL 4: The 59-page legal complaint also says that FDNY doesn’t use common human resources practices. Like giving employees regular performance reviews. Richardson said she’s only gotten two or three in the last 11 years. And without one, a merit-based raise is off the table.


It’s like a slap in the face when you deprive people of moving up // and making as much salary as the next person [0:07]

SIGL 5: This isn’t the first time the Fire Department has been accused of—or sued for—racial discrimination. Just three years ago the city settled a $98 million class action lawsuit because of entrance exams that were found to be biased against Hispanics and African Americans. The number of black firefighters has increased, and the Department now has a chief diversity and inclusion officer. But those supporting the case? Like council member Jumaane Williams—they say little has changed.


We’re dealing with something that we thought we would deal with maybe in the 1960s // We are in the city that is called the most progressive city in the country [0:08]

SIGL 6: The suit is seeking damages and remedies for the hundreds, potentially even thousands, of African Americans currently in or planning to join the civilian and EMS workforces. It also calls for an outside review of FDNY’s job selection and compensation decisions. Lead counsel Cyrus Mehri says there’s a lot at stake for the City. And more specifically, for Mayor Bill de Blasio.


This case will define the civil rights legacy of this mayor in his second term. How he responds to this case [0:09]

SIGL 7: Mehri says this case, is about holding the City accountable.


It is unusual to have seven current employees ready to step up and speak truth to power [0:09]

SIGL 7: The Fire Department responded to a request for comment with an emailed statement. It said [quote] “The Department in recent years has demonstrated a commitment to improved diversity and inclusion unlike at any time in our history.”

The seven named plaintiffs will continue in their current positions as litigation in the case moves forward. Jennifer Sigl, Columbia Radio News.


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