HR Administration

Black Firefighter Applicants Win Ruling in Chicago

By Staff Report

May. 16, 2011

A group of more than 6,000 black firefighter applicants has scored a court victory in a lawsuit raising questions about discrimination and employment-related testing.

On May 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago largely upheld an earlier ruling that the city had to pay damages and hire scores of black firefighter applicants because a job test had an unfair negative impact on them.

“After many years fighting for justice, our African-American clients will finally have a fair chance to serve their city,” says John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “The only remaining step is speedy implementation of a robust remedy for this long-standing injustice. The city of Chicago will be better for it. And beyond the immediate results in Chicago, this case will help ensure that no other fire department or employer utilizes a discriminatory test to unjustifiably eliminate fully qualified applicants of any race.”

From May 1996 through November 2001, the city hired 11 groups of applicants based on the results of an employment test. A lower court ruled that the cut-off score used by the city was not justified by business necessity. The city appealed, arguing that the initial charge of discrimination in the case was not filed in a timely manner with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The 7th Circuit court agreed with the city. But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision, sending the case back to the appeals court.

Many organizations are turning to employment-related tests, in part, to establish hiring procedures that are objective and therefore legally defensible. But, as the Chicago case shows, tests can land employers in hot water, as well.  

—Ed Frauenheim

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