Frequently Asked Questions

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Questions

  1. What is this lawsuit about?
  2. Why did the City’s decision not to hire applicants with scores below 89 violate the law?
  3. I heard that this case went to the Supreme Court; is that correct?
  4. What will happen next?
  5. How will the 111 class members who get the jobs be selected?
  6. What does the rest of the class get?
  7. When will hiring happen and when will money be distributed?
  8. How can I find out about developments in this case?
  9. Am I a member of the class?
  10. What do I have to do to be in the class?
  11. What is a class action?
  12. Who are the attorneys bringing this case?
  13. Will it cost me anything to be included in this case?
  14. What if I have other issues against the Fire Department or the City of Chicago — does this case cover those issues?
  15. I have passed my 38th birthday – am I still eligible for one of the 111 jobs?

Answers


1.

What is this lawsuit about?

In 1995, Chicago administered an entry-level firefighter exam to more than 26,000 applicants. After the test, the City established a passing score for the examination: 65 out of 100. But then, with limited exceptions and against the advice of its own expert, the City arbitrarily decided to limit hiring only to those with scores of 89 or higher.

On September 9, 1998, the African American Firefighters League of Chicago and eight African American men and women who took the 1995 Firefighter Hiring Examination, and passed the exam with scores between 65 and 88, filed a class action lawsuit against the City. The lawsuit was filed in federal court and is called Lewis v. City of Chicago. The suit charged that the City’s decision to limit hiring to those with scores of 89 or higher was racially discriminatory.

The lawsuit has been successful. The courts have found that the City engaged in racial discrimination by limiting hiring, between 1996 and 2002, to candidates with scores of 89 or higher and excluding those with passing scores between 65 and 88. The trial court called the City’s practice “a manifest violation” of Title VII, our nation’s core anti-discrimination statute in the employment context.

2.

Why did the City’s decision not to hire applicants with scores below 89 violate the law?


The problem with the City’s hiring decisions, as the courts have found, was that: (a) there was no job-related justification for excluding candidates with scores below 89 from hiring, and (b) that exclusion very disproportionately blocked African Americans from getting firefighter jobs. (In legal terms, there was an unjustifiable “disparate impact”).

While the fact that a candidate passed the 1995 Test with a score of a score of 65 or better may have provided some useful information about the candidate’s qualifications for a firefighter position, whether a candidate scored 89 or higher provided none. As the federal district court stated in its ruling, the 89 cut-off score was a “statistically meaningless bench-mark.” There was and is no evidence and no reason to believe that a candidate with a score of 89 or higher was any more qualified, in any relevant respect, than a candidate with a passing score between 65 and 88. Therefore, there was no lawful basis to limit hiring to persons with scores of 89 and above.

3.

I heard that this case went to the Supreme Court; is that correct?

Yes. Here is a brief history of the major court rulings in this case:

The liability judgment. On March 22, 2005, the trial court entered its order ruling against the City and in favor of the class members. To provide a remedy for the City’s violations of the law, the court also entered an injunction, in 2007. That injunction directed the City to implement rightful-place hiring. It required the City to: (a) hire more than 100 members of the plaintiff class into the Fire Department, reflecting the number of African Americans with scores between 65 and 88 who would have been hired but for the City’s discrimination; and (b) provide backpay for those discriminatorily denied job opportunities.

The first appeal. The City did not directly appeal the judgment of liability. Instead, it tried to escape liability for its illegal hiring practices by arguing that this lawsuit should have been filed sooner, within 300 days after the City first announced its hiring plan. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago sided with the City, accepting this argument, taking away the trial court victory and threatening to deny class members any relief. Then the case went to the United States Supreme Court.

In the United States Supreme Court. In June 2010, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of class members. The Supreme Court made clear that each and every time the City hired a new class of firefighters while limiting hiring to persons with scores 89 and above, the City violated our nation’s civil rights laws, by engaging in unlawful racial discrimination against class members.

The Second Appeal. After ruling, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the federal Court of Appeals in Chicago. In May 2011, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling, which was also unanimous, decisively rejecting new attempts by Chicago to evade the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals has sent the case back to the trial court with directions to implement a hiring remedy, with backpay.

4.

What will happen next?

The remaining step in this case is to provide a remedy: 111 jobs for African American class members in the Chicago Fire Department and payment of millions of dollars of backpay to class members. Beyond the immediate results for class members in Chicago, this case will serve notice to other fire departments that discriminatory tests that unjustifiably prevent the hiring of fully qualified applicants of any race are unlawful and will be successfully challenged.

On August 17, 2011, the federal district court entered a court order — in the form of an injunction — starting the processing of hiring 111 class members and distributing backpay. You can read a copy of that injunction here.

 
The injunction provides that:
  1. The City will hire 111 African American class members as candidate firefighters.
  2. Class members who are not hired will receive a monetary award instead.
    (There are more than 6,000 class members. Consequently, most class members will receive a monetary award rather than a job.)
  3. The hiring process will run as follows:
    1. By September 6, 2011, the City will mail a court-approved notice to all class members. That notice describes how the 111 ultimately to be hired will be selected.
    2. The notice will enclose a postcard (“Interest Card”). The post card asks class members to indicate whether they continue to be interested in a job.
    3. A jobs lottery will be conducted to select at least 750 class members for further pre-employment screening for one of the 111 jobs. The first phase of the jobs lottery will be conducted by selecting names from a randomized list of all class members who have returned the Interest Card and indicated their continued interest in getting a job on that card. In order to get your name on this randomized list, you must return the Interest Card and indicate your continued interest in getting a job on that card.
      If there are not at least 750 class members who have returned the Interest Card indicating their continued interest in getting a job, then additional class members will be selected for further screening from a randomized list of all class members who did not return the Interest Card.
    4. Winners of the jobs lottery will be invited for further pre-employment screening for one of the 111 jobs. That further screening consists of a physical abilities test, background check, medical examination and drug test.
    5. The first 111 class members to pass the physical abilities test, background check, medical examination and drug screen will be offered employment by the City as Chicago Fire Department candidate firefighters at the Chicago Fire Department Training Academy. (It is expected that these 111 will enter the Academy by the end of March, 2012).
    6. Class members who are not hired as one of the 111 who will enter the Training Academy will instead receive a monetary award. (It is expected that that award will be at least $5,000 per person and will be paid before the end of 2012)..

5.

How will the 111 class members who get the jobs be selected?

A jobs lottery will be conducted to select at least 750 class members for further pre-employment screening for one of the 111 jobs. The first phase of the jobs lottery will be conducted by selecting names from a randomized list of all class members who returned the Interest Card and indicated their continued interest in getting a job on that card. If there are not at least 750 class members who returned the Interest Card and indicate their continued interest in getting a job, then additional class members will be selected for further screening from a randomized list of all class members who did not return the Interest Card. Accordingly, if you want to be considered for a job, it is in your best interest to return the Interest Card by the deadline, after filling in the box next to the words “I WANT to be considered for a candidate firefighter job.”

Winners of the jobs lottery will be invited for further pre-employment screening for one of the 111 jobs. That further screening consists of a physical abilities test, background check, medical examination and drug test.

The first 111 class members to pass the physical abilities test, background check, medical examination and drug screen will be offered employment by the City as Chicago Fire Department candidate firefighters at the Chicago Fire Department Training Academy. (It is expected that these 111 will enter the Academy by the end of March, 2012).

6.

What does the rest of the class get?

Only 111 class members will be hired as firefighters. Accordingly, most class members will not get a firefighter job. But class members who are not hired as one of the 111 will be eligible to share in a monetary award. Backpay money will be distributed based on a formula that reflects the lost wages and benefits for the 111 jobs that class members would have received sooner but for the City’s unlawful discrimination. The court has not decided yet how much money will be awarded. But in public statements the City has estimated the amount to be $30 million. The actual figure may be larger. There are approximately 6,000 class members. Monetary relief will be distributed evenly among the approximately 6,000 class members who are not hired as firefighters.

7.

When will hiring happen and when will money be distributed?

111 class members should enter the Fire Academy before the end of March 2012. Money will be distributed after those 111 are hired and enter the Fire Academy. Money should be received before the end of 2012.

8.

How can I find out about developments in this case?

You can keep track of this case by periodically checking this website. We will post major developments, pleadings, and press releases. If you would like to speak to one of our attorneys about questions or issues that are not addressed by the information on this website, please contact us here.

9.

Am I a member of the class?

If you took the 1995 Chicago Firefighter Examination, and

  • your score on that test was between 65 and 88,
  • you are African American, and
  • you were never invited to continue to the next step in the hiring process,

then you are a member of the class. You may also be a member of the class if you scored between 65 and 88, you took and passed the physical abilities test, and you were in line to be hired for a Chicago firefighter position when the City stopped hiring applicants from the 1995 Firefighter Examination.

However, if you scored between 65 and 88 and took but failed the physical abilities test — or any failed any other screen in the hiring process, including the background check, drug test or medical exam — then you do not qualify as a class member.

If you are a class member, there is nothing you need to do right now to remain in the class. But,: (a) if you continue to be interested in a firefighter job, you should return the Interest Card that will be mailed to you in the next few weeks, after checking the box stating “I WANT to be considered for a candidate firefighter job”; and (b) if you have not already done so, so that we can contact you in the future, including with regard to job opportunities in the Fire Department as part of the remedial hiring ordered in this case or with regard to distributing monetary awards, if you have not already done so please click the “Update Address” link on this page to make sure that we have your most current contact information.

10.

What do I have to do to remain in the class?

Nothing at this time. But: (a) if you continue to be interested in a firefighter job, you should return the Interest Card that will be mailed to you in the next few weeks, after checking the box stating “I WANT to be considered for a candidate firefighter job”; and (b) if you have not already done so, so that we can contact you in the future, including with regard to job opportunities in the Fire Department or with regard to distributing monetary awards, if you have not already done so please click the “Update Address” link on this page to make sure that we have your most current contact information.

11.

What is a class action?

A class action is a suit brought by individuals on behalf of a large group of people with the same basic claims. Lewis v. Chicago is a class action of more than 6,000 African Americans who took the 1995 Chicago Firefighter Examination. Because this case was certified by the court as a class action, all class members are automatically represented by the lawyers for the class for purposes of this lawsuit.

12.

Who are the attorneys representing the plaintiff class in this case

Two civil rights organizations and four firms are working together on this case; their lead lawyers are listed in parentheses:

The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a non-profit legal advocacy and services organization in Chicago, that working on issues that affect poor and minority communities (Paul Strauss, formerly Clyde Murphy and Laurie Wardell)

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), a non-profit legal organization headquartered in New York City that has assisted African Americans and other people of color in securing their civil and constitutional rights for more than seven decades (John Payton, Debo Adegbile, Josh Civin, and Ryan Downer)

Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. a Chicago law firm (Matt Piers and Josh Karsh)

Miner Barnhill and Galland, a Chicago law firm (Judd Miner and Jeff Cummings)

Robinson Curly & Clayton, PC a Chicago law firm (Fay Clayton and Cindy Hyndman)

Bridget Arimond, a Chicago lawyer.

In addition, another solo practionner, Patrick Patterson, was part of the legal team in the case before he withdrew to become a senior counsel to the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

13.

Will it cost me anything to be included in this case?

No. There is no cost to you to be part of this case. Nor are you required to file any court papers in order to continue to be represented in this case by the lawyers for the class.

14.

What if I have other issues against the Fire Department or the City of Chicago -- does this case cover those issues?

This case only involves claims arising from the City’s discriminatory exclusion of large numbers of African Americans from hiring decisions for entry-level firefighter positions between 1996 and 2002, based on scores on the 1995 Chicago Firefighter Examination. Any other claims you or others may have against the City are not covered by this lawsuit.

15.

I have passed my 38th birthday – am I still eligible for one of the 111 jobs?

Yes. Although the City currently imposes an age limit on new hires entering the Fire Training Academy, that age-limit does NOT apply to class members hired for any of the 111 positions made possible by this lawsuit.