NEW YORK, Mar. 23 – At least two Caribbean American legislatures have welcomed an agreement reached in principle with the City of New York and intervening plaintiffs to settle an employment discrimination lawsuit involving the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) over its discriminatory hiring practices for Caribbean nationals and other minorities.
United States Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, said they are elated with the agreement.
The settlement will allow Caribbean men and women, among others, who were not hired based on their race to claim US$100 million in back pay and medical benefits that had been denied to them.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Vulcan Society, a Brooklyn, New York-based organization of African-American firefighters, in the Ninth Congressional District of New York, which Clarke represents. Three applicants wanted to become firefighters.
“There existed a policy of massive resistance, by which qualified African-American and Latino applicants were almost entirely excluded from service in the New York Fire Department based on their race,” Clarke told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on Sunday.
“I commend Mayor (Bill) de Blasio and Vulcan Society President John Coombs for their efforts to reach an agreement that will not only compensate the victims but also commits the Fire Department to a policy of inclusion,” added Clarke, who, when she was a member of the New York City Council, initiated an investigation of hiring practices used by the city’s Fire Department.
Clarke noted that diversity in the FDNY has increased in recent years, as 60 percent of the most recent class of recruits are men and women of color, including Caribbean immigrants, compared with 19 percent of the department as a whole.
“This is a historic day for the more than 1,500 firefighters of more color who were systematically denied employment opportunities with the Fire Department of the City of New York,” said Williams, who represents the predominantly Caribbean 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
“This settlement represents long-overdue justice for those who took an employment exam that, as the court noted, was biased, and prevented many otherwise qualified applicants from serving alongside their brothers and sisters in the department,” he added.
Under the agreement in principle, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said the City of New York will pay a total of about US$98 million to resolve allegations that the FDNY “engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination” against African-American and Hispanic applicants, including Caribbean nationals, for the entry-level firefighter position by using two discriminatory written tests in 1999 and 2002.