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NYC Challenges Judge Garaufis: Judicial Bias in the FDNY Lawsuit?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Less than 10 percent of New York City firefighters are black or Hispanic, but more than half of the city's 8 million residents identify with a racial minority group, reports CNBC. Those numbers may have weighed on U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, when he dubbed FDNY "a stubborn bastion of white male privilege" and wrote that the rampant discrimination in the department was 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."

According to city attorney Deborah Brenner, those comments belie bias. Tuesday, Brenner asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate Garaufis' order in an FDNY lawsuit and appoint a new judge to the case.

In May 2007, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the City of New York, alleging that the city was engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination in the hiring of entry-level firefighters. Specifically, DOJ claimed that the FDNY's use of written examinations to screen applicants for entry-level firefighter positions, and its decision to rank-order applicants who passed the written examinations for further consideration, had an unlawful disparate impact on black and Hispanic applicants.

Judge Garaufis agreed with DOJ, finding that the examinations "unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters." Judge Garaufis issued an injunctive relief order directing the city to make changes to its discriminatory practices and their effects. Among other things, the court ordered the city to improve its recruiting, post-examination screening, and equal employment opportunity compliance practices under the supervision of a court monitor.

Brenner told the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Garaufis' fact finding in the FDNY lawsuit was incomplete and biased, and his rulings ignored the steps the city had taken to increase minority recruitment. Attorneys for DOJ and Vulcan Society, an organization representing black firefighters, countered that Judge Garaufis had authority to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the recruitment, testing and hiring of new firefighters for at least 10 years, according to CNBC.

The appellate court is unlikely to rule on the city's appeal for several months.

Did Judge Garaufis' comments cross the line into judicial bias? Should the Second Circuit vacate and reassign the case?

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