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NYC Could Owe Black Firefighters $128 Million

MANHATTAN (CN) - Minorities who faced discrimination when testing to join the New York City Fire Department may collect up to $128 million in backpay, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The assessment has been a long time coming for New York City, which U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis previously criticized for letting a "stubborn bastion of white male privilege" take hold of its fire department for more than 40 years.

Garaufis' October ruling, which scorched the Bloomberg administration and the city's previous five mayors, ordered court monitoring for a more inclusive FDNY.

"The evidence in this case has established that the FDNY has not remained segregated-in-fact for over forty years by accident," he wrote. "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."

Mulling how much the city will owe the minority firefighters who were discriminated against in back pay, Garaufis aimed for the fences Thursday.

Capt. Paul Washington, a former president of the Vulcan Society, applauded the decision.

"The Vulcan Society has been fighting for almost 75 years to open the doors of the fire department to black firefighters," Washington said. "This is a great victory for those who have been excluded from serving our city because of their race. We hope the FDNY moves quickly to welcome the 293 black and Latino applicants who are entitled to be hired, and we look forward to serving with them."

The city, meanwhile, says it will likely pay far less.

"We believe the court's latest opinion is erroneous, and, in any event, is the first step in a lengthy process," city lawyer Michael Cardozo said. "As the court itself noted, any damages the city ultimately must pay will be reduced by the amount each member of the class earned. When all the proceedings have been completed, the damages, if any, that the city will have to pay will be far less than $128 million."

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