The City of Chicago will have to pay out more than $78 million to settle a lawsuit by thousands of African-American firefighter applicants who were bypassed for jobs in 1995 because of a discriminatory hiring procedure.
The city last year agreed to hire 111 of the firefighters who were passed over back then, but court-ordered payments in the case will still have to be made to at least 4,674 applicants who have filed claims against the city charging discrimination, according to the Chicago Sun Times
The amount of the payouts could rise, however, depending on whether more 1995 applicants come forward seeking damages.
The payments include $18.7 million to pay the city's share of pension contributions dating back to 1995 for the 111 applicants who were rejected 17 years ago but are now working as rookie Chicago firefighters. All of them are over the age cutoff of 38, but city waived the age cutoff for middle-age rookies to correct what Mayor Rahm Emanuel called a "mistake."
The case grew out of a 1995 firefighter exam drafted by an African American with the hopes of diversifying the Chicago Fire Department. When the minority results were disappointing, the city lowered the cutoff score and hired randomly from the top 1,800 candidates. But 78 percent of the “well-qualified” candidates turned out to be white.
A federal court ruled in 2005 that the hiring process perpetuated the predominantly white status quo. The Supreme Court weighed in five years later by ruling that the applicants had not waited too long, as the city claimed, to file their lawsuit.
“If the city had hired at random from among those who passed the test . . . there would have been no violation of the law and no massive back-pay award," said Matt Piers, the applicants' attorney. "And instead of paying cash to people who didn’t work for the city, they would have been paying people to fight fires."
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