Of roughly 11,000 firefighters in the city, only about 3 percent are black and 4.5 percent are Hispanic.
The city vowed to appeal a ruling that has halted the hiring of rookie firefighters amid test-discrimination claims, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show this morning.
Bloomberg says the judge's suggestion that the city can pay higher-salaried firefighters overtime instead of hiring more rookies is impractical.
A city lawyer, Georgia Pestana, warned in a statement Wednesday that the city will be forced to pay $2 million per month in overtime to make up for understaffing at the 11,000-member fire department.
"The taxpayer will spend only so much," he said, adding that other city agencies could suffer as a result.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis found Wednesday that an entry exam used by the mostly white department was unfair to black and Hispanic applicants.
In a written decision in federal court in Brooklyn, he said the city had not come up with a good explanation for wanting to hire a new class of firefighters based on an "invalid" test.
"Before the court can permit the city to use (the current exam) in any manner, the city must explain what has changed and why the need to appoint a few hundred rookie firefighters outweighs the need to avoid racial discrimination in municipal hiring," the judge wrote.
The judge's order prohibits any new hiring until Oct. 1. The judge said he would soon schedule a hearing to consider "remedial measures" to meet the city's needs.