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Labor & Employment

Chicago Will Borrow $80M to Pay Settlement with Black Firefighters

Posted Oct 23, 2012 5:03 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Chicago will borrow approximately $80 million to settle a discrimination action filed by black firefighter candidates who say that the city’s 1995 entrance exam was discriminatory.

Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court nixed the city’s argument that the candidates waited too long to challenge the test.

According to CBS 2, officials originally thought the settlement would cost between $30 and $40 million.

“We bonded for this back in, I think, the spring or summer of 2012, so it wouldn’t impact the budget, so it could be balanced,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “On the other hand, I made sure we also brought a class of firefighters—African-American firefighters—in, and they’ll be graduating soon, and I want to make sure, again, that the practices and policies of the past don’t ever repeat themselves.”

Matt Piers, who represents the plaintiffs, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he’s not surprised Emmanuel is borrowing the money.

“It’s always better to have cash on hand to pay these things. But, this administration inherited a nearly broke city government. So, I’m not sure they had an alternative,” says the former deputy corporation counsel for the city.

The city had hoped that the 1995 exam would diversify the Chicago Fire Department, which has a long history of discrimination, according to the Sun-Times. A cutoff score of 89 was set, and the city randomly hired from the top 1,800 “well-qualified” applicants.

Ten years later, a federal judge found that the city’s decision kept the fire department’s mostly white status quo, the Sun-Times reports, because 78 percent of the “well-qualified” candidates were white.

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