The New York City Fire Department has failed to put out the fires of racism and rescue its staff from gross injustice, said several Black employees in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed recently.
Less pay, scarce raises and diminished opportunities for advancement have been a norm within the FDNY when it comes to Black personnel, charges the suit filed in Manhattan Federal Court on December 1, according to the New York Daily News. White employees are offered more on the job, the suit said, in the department which is predominately White and has served as a battleground over bias for decades.
“The entrenched racism within this organization is a disease,” Cyrus Mehri, the lawyer for the seven African-American employees who have joined the suit, said at a press conference outside City Hall in New York City Wednesday.
People of color in jobs earn wages that are only 62 percent of those given to Whites, the suit said. The FDNY has also hired fewer African Americans for civilian positions, amounting to 33 percent less than would be expected if the department’s rate were equal to other city agencies. The numbers get even worse when considering positions further up the pay scale ladder.
Unspecified financial damages, the appointment of an outside monitor and a court-approved plan to increase representation of Black employees are being requested in the suit. Lawyers are also asking for class-action status for hundreds of other civilian FDNY workers and emergency medical services personnel.
Stephanie Thomas, a computer specialist named as a plaintiff in the suit, said she went 29 years without a promotion. She applied for seven positions in the last two years alone, five of which were filled with White candidates, she said.
“It’s supposed to be your ability, your performance,” Thomas said. “They are given the opportunity to go up the ranks, to be managers, and I’m not.”
The suit comes after the fire department previously settled a major racial discrimination suit indicting them for alleged barriers against Blacks and Hispanics applying to become firefighters. The department agreed to pay out $98 million and revamp its hiring practices as a result. Black employees also filed a complaint, still pending, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming similar misconduct last year.
The department has worked on making diversity and inclusion gains, Francis X. Gribbon, a spokesman for the Fire Department, said to the New York Times. The issue of racial discrimination, raised again in the recent complaint, has been under discussion for some time, New York City Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci confirmed.