NYC fire protection inspectors win class action status for lawsuit claiming racial discrimination in pay, work conditions

We are thrilled to announce that on Monday, September 19, a federal court judge, Judge
Analisa Torres, approved the proposed class action claiming that the City of New York has
engaged in racial discrimination against fire protection inspectors and associate fire protection
inspectors. The lawsuit claims that the City has been paying you thousands of dollars less each
year than it pays building inspectors in the Department of Buildings.

As most of you know, five FPIs and Local 2507 filed a proposed class action lawsuit
against the City on behalf of FPIs in May 2020. A case cannot proceed as a class action,
however, unless it meets all the requirements. In her opinion, Judge Torres concluded that all the
prerequisites were met. This means that, if we ultimately prevail in the lawsuit, all FPIs will
benefit, not just the five named plaintiffs.

What is still uncertain is whether we will prevail. Unless the case is resolved by
negotiated settlement, we will have to prove to the satisfaction of the judge or a jury that FPI job
duties are substantially similar to the job duties performed by building inspectors and that the
City pays FPIs less because most of you are people of color. Our lawyers have warned us that, if
there is no settlement, trial may still be many months away.

Oren Barzilay,
President FDNY EMS Local 2507

By Molly Crane-Newman | September 20, 2022

City Fire Department inspectors who say they make less money than workers in similar jobs at the Department of Buildings can pursue their case against the city as a class action, a federal judge ruled.

The decision by Manhattan Federal Court Judge Analisa Torres will help the 500 predominately nonwhite fire protection inspectors in their suit, which blames their low pay on racial discrimination.

More than 70% of the 500 fire protection inspectors are minorities, the lawsuit says. Their higher-paid counterparts at the Buildings Department are approximately 50% white, says the suit.

Torres found the fire protection inspectors’ arguments and publicly available data cited in their lawsuit convincing enough to let their case proceed as a class action.

That means that the lawsuit, originally filed by five fire protection inspectors and their union, can now be deemed to represent everyone who worked as a fire protection inspector during the three years before the complaint was filed to now.

Torres also wrote that the Fire Department and Buildings Department employees “perform similar tasks and the jobs require similar knowledge, skills, and abilities.”

The judge noted that the jobs are so similar that city officials considered consolidating them on at least two occasions. Yet the persisting pay gap between them averages about $9,000 per year, according to public data cited in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.

“For too many years, the city has treated fire protection inspectors as second-class employees,” said Darryl Chalmers, one of the original plaintiffs in the case. “We look forward to the day when our critical services to the city are properly valued.”

“Judge Torres allowing the case to proceed as a class action on behalf of all the city’s fire protection inspectors is a critical step toward righting a wrong,” said Michael Lieder, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said the city was unhappy with Torres’ decision. He said Torres was wrong to write that the Fire Department and Buildings Department jobs are similar. “The two positions differ significantly in terms of educational requirements and responsibilities, and the salaries are determined by negotiations with the unions,” Paolucci said.

On top of less pay, the fire inspectors argue that while their work is virtually identical to Buildings Department inspectors, they more regularly face danger. Unlike Buildings Department inspectors, fire inspectors are peace officers and can issue criminal summons and court appearance tickets.

Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY-EMS Local 2507, told the Daily News his members regularly deal with life-threatening situations.

“Our fire inspectors secure, for instance, all the gas pipes that lead through the airport — all the fuel lines,” he said.

“Fire inspectors protect the lives of New Yorkers every day,” he said. “It’s the right decision.”