FDNY Fire Protection Inspectors Win the Right to Pursue Their Race Discrimination Case as a Class Action

If you follow the news, you likely have come across the phrases “the wage gap” or “the pay gap.” Generally, when these phrases appear in news stories, they refer to the gender wage gap, a/k/a the extent to which women make less than men for comparable work. Sometimes, though, wage gaps cut along lines other than gender, as a recent federal race discrimination case demonstrates. If you discover that you (and others of your race) are being paid less than others outside your racial group for the same or similar work, then it’s time to consult a knowledgeable New York City race discrimination lawyer and consider what your next legal steps should be.

A group of New York City inspectors recently achieved success, not just in pursuing their wage gap-driven race discrimination case, but in pursuing it as a class action. (Class actions can benefit workers by allowing them to litigate as one, often making costs lower and the likelihood of financial recovery greater.)

The plaintiffs were employed as fire protection inspectors employed by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). These jobs called for inspectors to “conduct inspections of buildings, facilities, vehicles, and public activities in New York City to ensure compliance with safety codes, rules, and regulations.” According to the inspectors’ lawsuit, roughly 70% of the individuals employed in that role were people of color.

New York’s Department of Buildings employed its own set of inspectors. DOB inspectors, like fire protection inspectors, mainly worked in conducting inspections to ensure compliance with the city’s codes. Both sets of inspectors allegedly completed training on “virtually identical” subject matter.

Building inspectors, roughly half of whom were white, made significantly more than fire inspectors. In the fiscal year 2019, the city’s pay classifications called for an entry-level fire protection inspector to receive between $46,600 and $66,000. For entry-level building inspectors, the pay range was $61,800 to $80,500.

That same year, the gap between the median fire protection inspector’s salary and the median building inspector’s salary was roughly $9,000. That, of course, meant that fire protection inspectors earned less in overtime compensation and in pension benefits.

Intentional Steering by the Employer Not Required to Prove ‘Occupational Segregation’

The fire protection inspectors’ case was something called “occupational segregation.” As the judge in the inspectors’ case explained, an employer need not “intentionally steer racial minority applicants toward or away from certain positions” in order for occupational segregation to exist. In the fire protection inspectors’ lawsuit, they alleged, not that the city steered them into their jobs, but that the city failed to engage in proper monitoring of “the pay of similar employees in different agencies” to ensure that occupational segregation did not result in an adverse impact on people of a protected racial class.

One of the main keys in a pay gap-focused race discrimination case like this is to prove that you were treated less favorably than similarly situated workers who were not members of your racial group. For these inspectors, that meant that they had to prove that they and the building inspectors were similar, or else their case would fall apart. To do that, the inspectors retained two Ph.D. industrial and organizational psychology professors, who presented similarity analysis evidence that showed that the two groups of inspectors were, in fact, sufficiently similar.

The experts’ opinions were not the only evidence the inspectors had to support their argument of similarity. In addition, the inspectors presented proof that they and building inspectors “often work together and in tandem to perform the same function of [inspecting buildings for violations of the City code], sometimes conducting these inspections jointly on joint task forces.” Furthermore, the fire protection inspectors presented proof that their jobs and building inspectors’ jobs were so similar that, on two separate occasions, the city’s government contemplated consolidating the two positions into one.

The fire protection inspectors also had anecdotal evidence of race discrimination. One of the lead plaintiffs, D.C., testified about a late FDNY chief who declared that “the FDNY was racist and would not support the pay increase plan for [fire protection inspectors]; and that the City is aware of the FDNY’s long history of racial discrimination.”

All of these pieces together made for a sufficiently compelling case to allow the plaintiffs to proceed with their class action.

There are many different ways that you, as a New York worker, can be the victim of illegal race discrimination. Sometimes it is nooses and the N-word, but not always. Sometimes it is more subtle things like a wage gap based on race. Whatever the nature of the race discrimination you endured at work, the knowledgeable New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. We zealously advocate for workers victimized by all forms of illegal discrimination, and we’re eager to discuss how we can assist you. To find out more, contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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