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Chicago Must Right Disparate Impact, Hire 111 Black Firefighters

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 26, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the City of Chicago last week in a landmark employment discrimination case. As a result of the 7th Circuit ruling, Chicago must hire 111 black firefighter applicants who were denied jobs years ago by the city and it must pay tens of millions to approximately 6,000 more black candidates, according to The New York Times.

The 7th Circuit decision is based on a decade old case that involved a written employment test for prospective firefighters. As The New York Times reports, 26,000 applicants took an employment test in 1995 to become firefighters. The test considered anyone with a score of 65 or higher to be qualified. However, those initially hired were chosen from a random set of candidates scoring 89 or higher. This created a disparate impact at the expense of black candidates, as 6,000 black candidates had received scores between 65 and 89. Only 11 percent of black applicants received scores over 89, writes The Washington Post.

In 2005, a federal judge ruled that the test discriminated against black applicants and that the 89 point cutoff was meaningless and would disproportionately exclude blacks from the candidate selection pool.

The City of Chicago conceded to the disparate impact argument, but also argued that the plaintiffs had waited too long to bring suit; an argument that was unanimously rejected last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, Chicago must own up to the disparate impact of its pre-employment practices and pay out of pocket. The damages are estimated in excess of $30 million, including back pay for the 111 applicants. In addition to hiring 111 black firefighters, the City must also adjust their pensions as if they had been hired back in 1995. Another 6,000 firefighters will divide the damages award, which is calculated to be the amount that would have compensated 111 firefighters from 1995 to the present, writes The Washington Post.

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