FDNY Commissioner Fires Back at Discrimination Lawsuit

With enough heat to start a fire, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta Tuesday denounced a federal lawsuit charging his department with discriminatory hiring practices. Scoppetta says the FDNY has been working hard to diversify its ranks -- and says a lawsuit is a waste of time.

"These kinds of litigations are usually brought to compel a government agency to do something," said Scoppetta. "I don't know what a judge would do here. Would he order us to do what we're already doing? Because what was needed is what we're doing."

Scoppetta points to the FDNY's $1.5 million investment to attract a diverse group of applicants to sit for its most recent exam back in January. More than 30,000 people showed up for the test, nearly 40 percent were minorities.

Scoppetta says that should have an impact on a nearly 12,000 member department that has fewer than 400 blacks, some 600 Latinos, and 30 women.

"The classes, as we've been running them in the last five years, have resulted in three times the number of minorities hired as happened in the ten years prior to this administration," said the commissioner.

The Vulcan Society of black firefighters first sued the department five years ago. Two years ago, the federal government launched its own investigation, culminating in a finding by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the FDNY entrance exam is unfair to minorities.

"There is no indication that the skills needed to perform well on the written test are in any way related to the job skills needed to perform well as a firefighter," said the commission in a statement.

The Vulcans say changing the test is an easy place to start.

"We have strategies that can assist them in diversify their ranks," said John Coombs of the Vulcan Society. "What they need to do is listen to us."

But the fire commissioner defended the written exam, saying the test is not the problem.

"This is essentially a kind of aptitude test, a kind of intelligence test," said Scoppetta. "Can you understand the problems that are being presented to you? Do you show reasonably good judgment in responding? That's what any standardized test does."

In a letter sent to the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney in New York, the Bloomberg administration's top lawyer Michael Cardozo said the lawsuit is based on old data. He asked them to reconsider the lawsuit, calling it "an unwarranted abuse of your discretion and wasteful of federal and local government expense."

Republished with permission of NY1.

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