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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Scorches Bloomberg & NY Fire Dept.

MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge breathed flames in an order calling for a court-monitored, 10-year program to end 40 years of "a stubborn bastion of white male privilege" in the Fire Department of New York. The judge blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg for denying, in a deposition, that he knew the meaning of the word "responsibility."

Bloomberg and his eventual successors will be put under the court's supervision, under the 30-page order.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the court's plan will not include quotas, despite "the city's misleading and inflammatory statements to the contrary."

"While the City's other uniformed services and fire departments across the country have changed to reflect the communities they serve, employment as a New York City firefighter - arguably 'the best job in the world' - has remained a stubborn bastion of white male privilege," Garaufis wrote.

"The evidence in this case has established that the FDNY has not remained segregated-in-fact for over forty years by accident," he continued. "In its opinions and findings of fact in this case, the court has extensively detailed how policies, procedures, and practices adopted by the City of New York are responsible for systematically excluding black and Hispanic firefighter candidates from the ranks of the FDNY. ... That this discrimination has been allowed to persist in New York City for so long is a shameful blight on the records of the six mayors of this city who failed to take responsibility for doing what was necessary to end it."

Garaufis, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton, said that change came only when the Vulcan Society, a black firefighters' union, persuaded President George W. Bush's attorney general to break through the Bloomberg Administration's resistance.

"The clear evidence of disparate impact that Mayor Bloomberg and his senior leadership chose to ignore was obvious to anyone else who looked," Garaufis wrote. "Instead of facing hard facts and asking hard questions about the city's abysmal track record of hiring black and Hispanic firefighters, the Bloomberg Administration dug in and fought back. The only reason that the court today considers how to end the city's discriminatory hiring practices and eliminate their lasting effects is that a coalition of black New York City firefighters and President George W. Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, decided their only recourse was to sue the City of New York to make it stop."

The bludgeoning of the Bloomberg administration continues: "Today-four years of litigation and two adverse liability rulings later - the city still doesn't get it. In testimony and depositions in this case, the City's senior leaders have routinely denied that they are responsible for doing anything to remedy nearly forty years of discrimination. Throughout this litigation, city officials have routinely disclaimed accountability for the city's failures, shifting blame to offices, bureaus, divisions, and departments that lie outside the scope of their narrow parochial concerns. Examples of the city's culture of bureaucratic blame-shifting in this case are legion."

Presenting excerpts from Bloomberg's deposition, Garaufis ridiculed the mayor's testimony that he did not know the meaning of the word "responsibility."

Bloomberg's pas de deux came under questioning from attorney Richard Levy.

"(I)f this litigation has proven anything, it is that it is folly to expect any official of the City of New York to accept accountability for seeing that the equal employment

opportunity laws are followed," Garaufis wrote.

"In deposition testimony, Mayor Bloomberg denied even knowing what it means to be 'responsible':

LEVY: Do you consider yourself responsible for seeing that EEO laws and policies are followed?

BLOOMBERG: You just asked that question. I don't know what the word 'responsibility' is and I can't answer your question.

LEVY: Well do you consider yourself responsible in any sense?

BLOOMBERG: I don't know what the word 'responsible' is, counsel.

LEVY: Did you ever hear the phrase 'The buck stops with me,' or 'The buck stops with him'?

BLOOMBERG: I have heard that.

LEVY: Does that refer to you?

BLOOMBERG: I have heard that."

Judge Garaufis added: "In his deposition testimony Mayor Bloomberg claimed to be unable to recall the City's EEO policies - including the one he issued."So the court will now oversee his responsibilities.

An 8-item draft remedial order - which includes an advertising campaign, the development of a new test and candidate screening - is outlined in detail toward the end of the memorandum.

"To be sure, the court will not brook any defiance from the City in undertaking necessary remedial action," Garaufis wrote. "Where the evidence shows that the city's policies and practices perpetuate the effects of the city's discrimination against black and Hispanic firefighter candidates - like those addressed in the court's Findings of Fact - the city must take remedial action."

A fairness hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 17.

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