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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chicago Faces New Bias Claims Over Job Tests

CHICAGO (CN) — Twelve female paramedics claim in a federal lawsuit that the Chicago Fire Department refuses to follow a court order to stop fitness testing that prevents many women from joining its ranks.

Last month, the Seventh Circuit court found that the physical fitness test the city was giving to paramedic recruits had nothing to do with the requirements of the job and discriminated against women, who disproportionately failed the test.

The city replaced its physical test with a different assessment in 2014, according to the new lawsuit filed Friday in Chicago federal court.

But according to the group of female paramedics that were suspended or discharged from CFD's training academy, the old test was replaced by two new physical tests meant to do the same thing — keep them out of the department.

"This testing has no legally defensible justification and eliminates a significant number of women, but virtually no men," the complaint states. "Its discriminatory effect has not been accidental."

From 1996 through 2014, the CFD remained over 70 percent male, and it has long been the subject of discrimination complaints. The department has allegedly failed to accommodate nursing mothers or put a stop to harassment, and has refused to provide female firefighters and paramedics with adequate bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.

"The city's discrimination against women in the CFD is stubborn and purposeful. It reflects a deep-seated hostility within the CFD to allowing women to serve," Friday's lawsuit states.

September's Seventh Circuit ruling was based on a 2008 lawsuit challenging the department's physical test that was allegedly designed so that most women could not pass it.

The Chicago-based appeals court found that the test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, based on a "lack of connection between real job skills and tested job skills."

"Now the city is allowing more women to enter the academy — but is flunking them before they can graduate," according to the new complaint.

Once in the training academy, the paramedics say recruits must pass the lifting and moving sequence, which requires them to carry a 250-pound mannequin up and down six flights of stairs with a partner without allowing the chair it is on to touch anything.

They also have to successfully complete a step test, stepping up and down from an 18-inch high platform with two 25-pound weights for two minutes, all the while keeping time with a metronome, according to the 22-page lawsuit.

These physical requirements once again have nothing to do with job performance, the paramedics claim, and once again are failed mostly by women, "as if the city has learned nothing."

"The new tests are as ill-matched to the requirements of the job as the test was in [the 2008 case]," the complaint states. "The new testing serves only one demonstrable purpose—to continue to disproportionately deny employment to women, without any job-related justification, in violation of Title VII."

The female parademics are suing for Title VII violations, and are represented by Marni Willenson of Willenson Law LLC and Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym Ltd. Both firms are based in Chicago.

Chicago's legal department did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

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