Don Babwin, San Francisco Chronicle, May 13, 2011
A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the Chicago Fire Department must hire 111 African Americans who passed a firefighters entrance exam 16 years ago and pay millions of dollars to thousands more who took and passed the same test.
An attorney for the black firefighter candidates said that the 111 jobs would be filled from the applicants who passed the 1995 test and their pensions would be adjusted as if they’d been firefighters since 1995. And, said Joshua Karsh, 6,000 others who also passed the test will divide “tens of millions of dollars” that would have been paid 111 firefighters from 1995 until today.
Hoyle said that the city was still calculating the damages as result of dividing the back pay of 111 firefighters among the 6,000 applicants, but that officials estimate the payout will be about $30 million.
The ruling stems from a test given in 1995 that was intended to measure an aptitude for firefighting. After the test, anyone who scored 64 or below was deemed not qualified, but officials told those who scored above that number that while they passed, they would randomly hire the top 1,800 who scored 89 or better.
Because only 11 percent of the African Americans scored 89 or better, the overwhelming number of applicants hired from that test were white.
Karsh said the test was discriminatory because there was no evidence that the applicant who scored 89 or better would be any better firefighter than another who scored a 64, and in fact in 2005 a federal judge said the test discriminated against black candidates. In her ruling the judge said the city knew the cutoff point was meaningless and would disproportionately exclude blacks from the pool of candidates most likely to be hired.