The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Fire Department, saying that FDNY exams in 1999 and 2002 discriminated against black and Hispanic candidates. Black and HIspanic candidates fail the exam at much higher rates, and currently, the blacks and Hispanics make up only 7.5% of the FDNY's 11,000 firefighters. The NY Times notes that the fire departments of LA and Philadelphia are more than 40% black or Hispanic.

The lawsuit claims the tests "do not accurately determine whether an applicant will be able to perform the job of firefighter" and that the tests "disproportionately [screen] out large numbers of qualified black and Hispanic applicants." This comes as the FDNY has spent the past few years trying to improve its minority hiring, prompting Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to said, "The only rational order that could come out of this would be for the judge to order us to do what we have already done." Mayor Bloomberg was unhappy with the lawsuit as well, saying, "The Justice Department is wrong, and we'll see 'em in court."

Metro printed one of the test's questions:

While operating at a fire, Capt. Green, the commander of the Ladder Company 999, was sent by Chief Brown to locate the exact location of the fire. The fire building was two stories in height with a basement. Capt. Green found that the fire was located in one corner at the rear of the basement. The best way for Capt. Green to write this information in a fire report upon returning to the firehouse was as follows:

A) “The fire was located on the lower level, in the rear.”
B) “The fire was located in the southeast corner of the lower level.”
C) “The fire was located in the southeast corner of the basement.”
D) “The fire was located in the rear of the basement.”

The answer is after the jump. The lawsuit was filed by the Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters (the Vulcan Society's president, John Coombs, said, "It's time at last for the FDNY to be held accountable and it's time for a real significant change.") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with help from the Center for Constitutional Rights. Here's a 2002 article from a Columbia Journalism class about a black firefighter fitting into the FDNY.

Update: Reader edEx offered this link to a City Council briefing about minority and women recruitment.

Photograph of Engine Company 5 by Triborough on Flickr

The answer is "C: The fire was located in the southeast corner of the basement."