CHICAGO — It will cost the city of Chicago at least $45 million to compensate thousands of African-Americans who lost a shot at becoming a Chicago firefighter because of a discriminatory test, under a federal court order entered Wednesday that brings an end to 13 years of litigation.
Up to 6,000 black applicants in 1995 lost out on the chance to be placed on the list of potential firefighters because the exam and its qualifying cut-off score favored white job seekers, the courts first found six years ago.
But the city appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year rejected the city’s contention the suit was filed too late. That ruling led to Wednesday’s order.
“It’s been a long and very difficult process, but we are extremely happy” said Matthew Piers, lead attorney for the black firefighter applicants.
The applicants who can be located will equally share a court award of $30 million, which means each will get at least $5,000, Piers said. Out of those applicants, the city will have to hire 111, who also will get city pension contributions of at least $15 million, Piers said.
Black applicants who qualify under the court order and still want to be firefighters must still pass pre-employment screening, physical tests, drug screens and medical examinations to be placed on a special eligibility list for the 111 jobs.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who inherited the problem when he took office earlier this year, did not specify where the money will come from or how the Fire Department will add the new firefighters.
“There is a program the Fire Department is putting in place as it relates to hiring for the future,” Emanuel said at a news conference in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood about a program to try to fight foreclosures. “The Fire Department, Commissioner (Robert) Hoff, is putting that in place and putting out notices, and taking those steps.
“As it relates to settling the $30 million, that’s going to be a responsibility we’re going to have as a city to deal with, and I acknowledge that, and the commissioner acknowledges that, and we’re going to have to deal with it,” Emanuel said. “So that’s the past.
“The future is about making sure people feel they got a shot at becoming a fireman, because you want the best quality in our Fire Department. That’s our goal as a city.”