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Another discrimination lawsuit filed over Chicago firefighters exam

Updated: November 28, 2012 6:14AM



A physical abilities test the city is using to hire African-American firefighters in settlement of a race discrimination lawsuit is discriminatory against women, a suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court charges.

Godfrey et al vs. City of Chicago was filed by 20 female plaintiffs on behalf of all female applicants who recently took the test and failed.

“The city hasn’t been served yet with the lawsuit, so we cannot comment at this time,” said city Law Dept. spokesman Roderick Drew.

The women are already members of two other class-action suits.

They were members of Lewis et al vs. City of Chicago — encompassing some 6,000 African-American firefighter applicants who sued over a 1995 firefighter entrance exam the federal courts agreed was racially discriminatory. That suit was finally settled last year.

The Godfrey plaintiffs are also members of the lawsuit Vasich vs. City of Chicago, filed last year on behalf of women who passed the firefighter written exam but failed the physical abilities test.

That suit, seeking to have the physical test replaced, is pending.

“It’s a test that doesn’t really test for the abilities you need to become a firefighter, and screens out women needlessly and unjustifiably,” said attorney Marni Willenson, who represents some of the women in the Godfrey suit and is lead attorney on Vasich.

“We’ve been in settlement discussions for a year, yet the city made the decision again to use the test we were suing to throw out.”

As part of the settlement of the Lewis suit, the city agreed to hire 111 of the bypassed African-American applicants, and to pay damages that could reach as high as $78 million to the remaining 5,900.

Some 1,000 of those African-American applicants were invited to try out, with the jobs to go to the first 111 passing the disputed

physical test, drug and background checks, and medical exams.

So where the Vasich suit covers women in general who have taken and failed the physical test since 2007, the Godfrey suit now covers African-American women from the Lewis suit who failed the same test.

Both suits charge the physical test, which includes arm and leg lifts, arm endurance tests, hose dragging and stair climbing, discriminates by screening out women at a higer rate than men.

In 2011, women still comprised only 2 percent of the more than 5,000 firefighters/emergency medical technicians staff, charges the Godfrey suit, which seeks back pay and other reliefs “to secure future protection and to redress the past deprivation of rights.”

Friday’s lawsuit now represents the third time the physical abilities test has been the subject of a discrimination lawsuit by women. In 2008, five women who failed the paramedic physical ability test sued, and that first case is still pending in federal court.



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