Judge Rules City Fire Exam Biased

Glenn Jeffers, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 23

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Chicago discriminated against African-American applicants who took a 1995 firefighter entrance exam, ending a long chapter in a seven-year legal battle.

The lawsuit alleged that the exam’s 89-point cutoff for well-qualified applicants would produce a smaller percentage of minority candidates. By setting that benchmark, the city created a pool of 1,782 candidates that was five times more white than African-American.

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Clyde Murphy, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the verdict an important victory for the applicants who scored between 65 and 88 and fell in the “qualified” category.

The city has been using that pool to select candidates for the Fire Academy since 2002, when it ran out of “well-qualified” applicants who scored 89 and above.

That fact ultimately invalidated the test, the cutoff score and the city’s defense, Gottschall wrote.

The African American Firefighters League filed the lawsuit in September 1998, after two rulings from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the city was twice as likely to hire white applicants than African-American applicants. The EEOC report also cited the 1995 exam as an example of discrimination.

Also, Dr. James Outtz, the consultant the city hired to create a more objective test, testified that he recommended the city set the cutoff at 65 to decrease the disparity against African-American applicants.

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Murphy said he would seek damages on behalf of the qualified black applicants, which he estimated could be as high as $80 million “for the 132 firefighter positions that would have gone to African-Americans in a fair system.”

That includes $20 million in back pay, with the rest in potential earnings due to fire personnel schedules, Murphy said. How the money would be distributed among the plaintiffs will be decided during the damages phase of the trial, he said.

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