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Court ruling victory for African American firefighters

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CHICAGO - It was a long time in coming and a major blow against discrimination in hiring practices here. The 7th US Court of Appeals ordered the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) to hire 111 African Americans who had passed a qualifying exam to become fire fighters in 1995, but then weren't considered after the qualifying criteria was changed.

In its unanimous May 13 ruling, the court also ordered the city of Chicago to pay what could exceed $30 million to 6,000 other African American applicants who also qualified. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund argued the case on behalf of the applicants and the African American Firefighter and Paramedics League.

"I am very surprised and pleased to get this result," Crawford Smith told the Chicago Defender. "I had given up (on the case) because it took so long."

The action puts an end to 16 years of legal obstruction by the City of Chicago and the Daley Administration even after it had confessed it had discriminated. The city had tried to avoid a settlement based on a technicality.

Even the right wing dominated US Supreme Court couldn't deny the blatant discrimination and had ruled unanimously in favor of the African American applicants last May. The high court said they had not waited too long to file a complaint against the act of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which the city had maintained.

The case goes to the heart of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1995 the City of Chicago conducted tests for new firefighters and set a qualifying score of 64. After 26,000 applicants scored above the limit, the CFD announced it had a new criteria and would choose from a much smaller pool of applicants who scored 89 or higher.

Of those who scored between 64-88 on the exam, 6,000 were African American or 36 percent. But when the qualifying score was raised to 89, whites compromised 77 percent and African Americans 9 percent, a clear violation of the "disparate impact" standard of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

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