Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, August 17, 2011
Chicago will hire 111 bypassed black firefighters by March 2012 and pay at least $30 million in damages to some 6,000 others who will never get that chance, under a court order expected to be approved Wednesday by a federal judge.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed that African-American candidates did not wait too long before filing a lawsuit that accused the city of discriminating against them for the way it handled a 1995 firefighter’s entrance exam.
A federal appeals court affirmed that ruling in May and remanded the case back to the trial court to implement a hiring remedy the city had been stalling.
Now, both sides have agreed on that plan and how it should be implemented.
The court order, to be presented to U.S. District Judge Joan Gotschall on Wednesday, calls for the city begin by sending postcards to all 6,000 black bypassed black candidates.
Those who indicate they are still interested in becoming Chicago firefighters will be entered into a “jobs lottery” to identify 750 candidates who will take a physical abilities test in October and undergo background checks, drug tests and medical exams.
From that group, the city will select 111 candidates who will enter the fire academy for training by the end of March 2012.
Would-be firefighters who have moved on to other careers or choose to bypass the jobs lottery for other reasons will receive cash awards of at least $5,000 per person. Chicago taxpayers will also be on the hook for $10 million to $20 million in back pension contributions for those who get jobs. That means the total cost could approach $50 million.
When results from the 1995 entrance exam were disappointing for minorities, the city established a cut-off score of 89 and hired randomly from the top 1,800 “well-qualified” candidates.
In 2005, a federal judge ruled that the city’s decision had the effect of perpetuating the predominantly white status quo, since 78 percent of those ‘”well-qualified” candidates were white.