In 1995, the City of Chicago hired an African American to write the firefighter’s entrance exam in hopes of diversifying a historically discriminatory department. The results were not encouraging for minorities initially, and even worse after the city established a cutoff score of 89 and hired randomly from the top 1,800 candidates. Seventy-eight percent of those in the hiring pool were white, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
A class action lawsuit alleging discriminatory hiring practices was filed and a federal judge ruled against the city in 2005. The judgment was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010.
Last year, the city agreed to hire 111 of the bypassed candidates (who are now in their thirties and forties) and pay damages estimated at $30 to $40 million. Those estimates, it seems, were about half of what the city will pay in back wages and other damages. The bill, due by the day after Christmas, is now $78.4 million.
The firefighters sued via a disparate impact provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because discrimination is often hard to prove, as employers don't typically provide racist reasons for rejecting candidates, one can sue under the theory that the hiring procedures in place have a disproportionate negative effect on a minority group.
While Chicago seemed to have good intentions with its 1995 hiring practices, the test and cutoff did disproportionately hurt black candidates. The methods chosen seem to have been objective and fair, but still led to a predominately white class of firefighters being added to a predominately white fire department.
So far, of the 5,850 black candidates who make up the class, only 4,674 have filed claims. The deadline was reported by the Sun-Times as midnight Saturday, but it seems to have been extended until November 3, according to the site. Claims should be filed online at chicagofirefightersclassaction.com. The individual checks could range from $9,000 to $11,000, depending on the number of additional filings.
As for the city's newest employees, the Sun-Times reports that out of the 111 older-than-average members of the class, none have washed out of training. Some have had to repeat physical tests or will held over to a future class due to injury, but as a whole, the group is doing exceptionally well.
- Consult a Chicago Employment Law Attorney (FindLaw)
- City To Borrow Nearly $80M To Settle 1995 Firefighters' Exam Lawsuit (CBS Chicago)
- Chicago Must Right Disparate Impact, Hire 111 Black Firefighters (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
- Lewis v. City of Chicago: The Supreme Court Protects the Rights of Disparate-Impact Discrimination Plaintiffs (FindLaw's Writ)