CHICAGO — The City of Chicago must hire 111 black firefighter applicants who were passed over for jobs years ago and pay tens of millions of dollars in damages to about 6,000 other black candidates under a ruling issued on Friday by a federal appeals court.
The decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is only the latest in a legal battle that began with a written employment test for firefighters more than a decade ago, wound its way to the United States Supreme Court by last year and remains a matter of division and concern among the city’s firefighters.
“For some of the people involved, this is a very emotional moment,” said Joshua Karsh, a lawyer who represented black applicants who accused the city of employment discrimination. “The city could have cleared this up a long time ago.”
In 1995, 26,000 people took an employment test to become firefighters.
The city said anyone who had scored above 65 was considered “qualified,” but chose its initial hires from random sets among candidates who scored 89 or better, a group it deemed “highly qualified,” court documents say.
But after complaints were filed, the city conceded that the 89-point cutoff created a “disparate impact” against black candidates — 6,000 of whom had gotten qualified scores — compared with white candidates, the documents show.
The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 last year that despite claims by the city, the group of black job candidates had not waited too long to file its lawsuit.