Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg testified in a discrimination lawsuit on Wednesday that he did not recall receiving a report more than six years ago warning him about sharp differences in the passing rates between white and minority candidates for firefighter jobs, lawyers for a black firefighters’ association said.
Mr. Bloomberg gave a three-hour deposition in connection with a federal lawsuit brought by the Justice Department in 2007. The suit was prompted by complaints made by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal group for black firefighters, and several individual firefighter applicants.
In July, a Federal District Court judge in Brooklyn, Nicholas G. Garaufis, ruled that entrance examinations for the Fire Department in 1999 and 2002 discriminated against black and Hispanic applicants. A set of related claims against the mayor and other city officials is still being heard.
Under questioning on Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that his signature appeared on a letter of response to the report, from the city’s Equal Employment Practices Commission, the lawyers said. But he said he did not recall carrying out any of the report’s recommendations, including one that asked the Fire Department to assess the adverse effects of the 1999 entrance exam. Mr. Bloomberg also said he had not read Judge Garaufis’s ruling.
Speaking after the deposition, Richard Levy, a lawyer for the Vulcan Society, said: “The mayor has very little memory of anything that seems to have happened here. We’ve presented documents to him showing that the proportion of blacks in the Fire Department, which is now 3.14 percent as of May 2009, is lower than the proportion that was in the Fire Department in the 1990s.”
“He dismissed that as minor differences — unimportant — at the same time that he said that he and the city have a great interest in expanding diversity,” Mr. Levy said.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, Kate O’Brien Ahlers, said, “The deposition relates to ongoing litigation, and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment.”
City officials have said that they have made noticeable strides in diversifying the Fire Department, pointing out that new outreach efforts have increased the number of minority applicants who took and passed the firefighter exams. Those efforts have tripled the number of African-Americans and doubled the number of Hispanics who took a new test in 2007, officials said, adding that one-third of the most recent class of probationary firefighters are minorities.
Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of her nomination to the Supreme Court, Mr. Bloomberg said he disagreed with her ruling in a case involving New Haven firefighters. He then talked in some detail about fighting a lawsuit that accused New York City of using discriminatory tests to screen candidates for the Fire Department.
Less than a week after the hearing, Judge Garaufis ruled that the tests discriminated against black and Hispanic candidates.
Then in August, saying the mayor’s comments in Washington suggested “his direct involvement in the events at issue in the case,” the judge reversed a magistrate judge’s ruling and said Mr. Bloomberg should be compelled to give a deposition.
It was given in a conference room in the city’s Law Department, in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Bloomberg arrived a few minutes early, and apparently left through a side door, avoiding reporters.
The mayor testified that to help him determine whether the screening tests had been discriminatory, he had consulted fire officials, firefighters and trainees, according to a person who heard the deposition. The mayor did not mention consulting any experts outside the Fire Department, said the person, who insisted on anonymity, saying it was inappropriate to discuss ongoing litigation.