CFD’s ‘Lewis’ class almost a month into the academy

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The 111 Black Chicago Fire Department firefighter candidates –– members of the Lewis v. City of Chicago class action lawsuit –– are near the completion of their first month in the academy’s six month training program.

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The 111 Black Chicago Fire Department firefighter candidates –– members of the Lewis v. City of Chicago class action lawsuit –– are near the completion of their first month in the academy’s six-month training program.

The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the city must hire 111 Black firefighters and pay damages to an estimated 6,000 other applicants who were denied employment due to a discriminatory Fire Department exam administered in 1995.

The ruling is as a result of a test that was supposed to measure the aptitude for firefighting. Those who scored a 64 or below was determined unqualified. Applicants were informed by fire officials that those who scored above that benchmark number that while they passed, the department would selectively hire the top 1,800 who scored 89 or above.

During a six-year period – from 1996 to 2002 – the city hired more than 1,000 firefighters using the results of a test in a manner that excluded what were believed to be at the time qualified African Americans.

Although the city had knowledge of the exclusions, the test results were still used to hire majority white applicants.

The test was considered discriminatory because there was no evidence that the applicant who scored 89 or better would be any better firefighter than another who scored a 64, and in fact in 2005 a federal judge said the test discriminated against Black candidates.

“The City in the past made a mistake. You are about correcting that mistake. You and your fellow firefighters and the Chicago Police Department are the most important public servants we have,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the candidates during a recent visit to the academy.

Last year the city lost a U.S. Supreme Court ruling after appealing that the plaintiffs’ did not file their claim in time.

“Our objective throughout has been to provide a remedy for qualified African American applicants who should have been hired, but weren’t because or a test cut-off that had nothing to with selecting the best firefighters,” said executive director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Jay Readey in May 2011. “We are a step closer now to providing jobs and money to those who deserve them.”

Then- Law Department spokesperson Jennifer Hoyle called the ruling a partial victory for the city because the number of hires were reduced from 132 to 111, decreasing the amount in damages they owed the applicants.  The city is expected to owe $30 million in damages to the applicants, she said.

The class entered the academy March 16 and is expected to complete training by September. They will receive retroactive seniority and their pensions will be funded as if they had been hired on June 1, 1999.

The first three months will focus on an introduction to the Fire Department and EMT-B Training for certification; the remaining three months will consist of firefighter training and candidates are required to pass a State Firefighter Exam.

Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender

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