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Editorial March 27, 2014  RSS feed

EDITORIAL

The tempest over the Fire Department’s testing policy was settled last week, but at what cost?

Actions have consequences and Mayor Bill de Blasio will have to deal with them now that he threw in the towel on the discrimination suit filed by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters in the Fire Department.

The Vulcan Society claimed discrimination against blacks in the written civil service entrance exams and took the Fire Department to federal court to prove their charge. Judge Nicholas Garaufis was appointed to hear the case in 2011, and he determined that there was intentional discrimination against minority applicants.

How he came to this determination is questionable since the FDNY exam, much like other civil service tests, was created to determine the candidates best qualified for the job, regardless of race, color or creed. The very civil service system is designed not only to be free of politics but free of discrimination—it is designed to find the best people for the jobs, regardless of who they are.

The Bloomberg administration took the matter to the Appellate Court, which tossed out the portion of Garaufis’ ruling that characterized the discrimination as intentional. Moreover, a new judge was assigned over what the court found to be Garaufis’ lack of impartiality.

The city had a chance to win and overturn Garaufis’ decision, but that was short-circuited by de Blasio, who abandoned the suit and agreed to pay out $100 million to a group of 1,500 minority firefighter applicants who didn’t pass the test. If evenly distributed, each one would get about $65,000.

There are those who will see this as success, but it is nothing more than blaming someone else for failure.

If de Blasio is truly committed to ending inequality in all forms, then he should throw the civil service testing program out the window and assign all municipal jobs according to race and ethnic origins, as determined by census figures.

After the pool of workers have filled out an application, a lottery could be held to fairly determine who in each ethnic category gets the job. Qualifications and skill are not necessary, as they may be considered discriminatory.

The same rule can be applied to the entrance exams for specialized public high schools, since the mayor has already stated the entrance exams also appear to be biased.

Not everyone can play for the New York Mets; not everyone can be an algebra teacher; not everyone can be a New York City firefighter. Every job demands excellence in one or a number of skills, but in the end, every employer discriminates between candidates based on what they can and cannot do.

Blatant, intentional discrimination based on demographic traits is absolutely wrong, but the city and other employers should make their hiring decisions based on merit and skill— and the city should address inequality through better education and other programs to raise all boats with the tide.

That old Greek philosopher Aristotle was right: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make an unequal thing equal.”