City Ordered to Hire 111 Black Firefighters

A court order, finalized on Wednesday, instructs the Chicago Fire Department to add 111 black firefighters by March 2012.

The order, presented by U.S. District Court Judge Joan Gotschall, stems from a civil rights case that has made its way through trial and federal court. The lawsuit alleged that the Chicago Fire Department used discriminatory practices in its evaluation of scores for a 1995 entrance exam.

This May, a federal appeals court ruled that CFD must hire 111 African Americans who passed the exam in 1995.

The employments serve as part of the overall plan to pay at least $30 million in damages to some 6,000 plaintiffs in the case.

Would-be firefighters who have chosen other career paths and those who choose to bypass the "jobs lottery" that will identify 750 candidates to take a physical abilities test in October will receive cash awards of at least $5,000 per person.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has every incentive to get the hirings done in a hurry, as Chicago taxpayers will be liable for an additional $500,000 in back pay for every month the hiring is delayed.

Chicago taxpayers will also pay $10 million to $20 million in back pension contributions for those who land the firefighter jobs. A total cost in damages could amount to almost $50 million.

The order, expected to be approved by a federal judge Wednesday, outlines the procedure which will narrow a list of 750 candidates to send 111 people to the fire academy. The fire department will also send out notices about agility tests and background checks. 

In 2005, federal courts determined that the city had unfairly based scores for the entrance exam on a single written test, not accounting for high performance in other areas such as the physical test and other experience. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the plaintiff's favor against CFD notion that the candidates had waited too long to sue the city.

When results for the 1995 entrance exam proved disappoint for minorities, the city established a cut-off score of 89 and hired randomly from the top 1,800 "well-qualified" candidates. Statistics show that 78 percent of those "well-qualified" candidates were white. Currently, African-Americans comprise of 19 percent of the 5,000 Chicago firefighters and paramedics.The rest of the fire and paramedic force is 68 percent white and 11 percent Hispanic.

African-Americans are dramatically underrepresented in the Chicago Fire Department by comparison to the makeup of the Chicago Police Department.

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