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NYC fire department settles discrimination lawsuit

Published: Wed, March 19, 2014 @ 12:28 p.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — About 1,500 minorities who took New York City fire department entrance exams that were found to be biased will be eligible to receive back pay totaling $98 million, a black firefighters' group that had sued the city over racial discrimination said Tuesday.

The settlement of the seven-year-old case capped a long and arduous legal fight by the group, the Vulcan Society, over diversity in the fire department. In a city where more than half of residents identify with a racial minority group, black firefighters have never made up more than 4 percent of the department's total.

"This is a great day in the city of New York," said Capt. Paul Washington, a past president of the Vulcan Society. "And we hope that this is the beginning of a new day for the New York City Fire Department."

Besides back pay, the settlement includes more than $6 million to cover lost medical payments, fringe benefits and interest for those who took the test in 1999 and 2002. It also allows for firefighters to be assigned to firehouses in neighborhoods where they live. The payment method hasn't been determined and will have to be approved by a federal judge.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has yet to appoint a fire commissioner, and his corporation counsel, Zachary Carter, praised the settlement as a way to diversify station houses.

"The brave men and women of the FDNY work tirelessly to keep us safe from harm's way — and our administration is committed to ensuring every New Yorker who seeks to take on this heroic role has a fair opportunity to join the ranks," de Blasio said in a statement.

Among other things, the settlement calls for the FDNY to create an executive position for diversity and appoint a uniformed advocate to hear claims of racial discrimination.

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