By: by George Garneau TWENTY-ONE FORMER New York Daily News employees who are members of minority groups are claiming they were victims of racism when Mortimer Zuckerman fired them as he bought the paper earlier this year. The former reporters and business staffers filed complaints July 6 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York City. In separate complaints, they say they lost their jobs "because of their race or because of their being vocal about racism at the Daily News," said Renee Steinhagen, a Newark, N.J., attorney representing the group. "There was a history of racism at the Daily News which was brought to [Zuckerman's] attention and he deliberately listened to people who were part of that policy before," Steinhagen said. The 15 blacks, four Hispanics and two Asians were not rehired when Zuckermam acquired the paper in January from the bankruptcy court. They are members of the Newspaper Guild unit, the paper's only union not to receive a contract. "The EEOC is going to investigate and help us file a federal lawsuit, or we are going to do it on our own," Steinhagen said. The complainants say Zuckerman relied on employee evaluations made by managers at the paper, which has a history of racial discrimination, as proven in a federal case that four black journalists won in 1987, despite being given "explicit" notice about "racist" attitudes of newsroom supervisors, said Dave Hardy, one of the fired black reporters and a plaintiff in the 1987 case. Of 11 black reporters when he took over, Zuckerman hired three, all female, leaving all six black male reporters and two black females out of their jobs. Delbert Spurlock, Daily News associate publisher and executive vice president, said the paper was evaluating the charges but its position was that the decision not to hire employees was based on "evaluations and the size of work force we needed," not on "race, national origin, religion or any other impermissible cause." He said the settlement of the 1987 lawsuit involved the previous owner, Tribune Co. of Chicago, not Zuckerman, and 27 of its 96 newsroom hires since the takeover have been minorities.