Female Paramedics Win Chicago Gender Bias Case

     CHICAGO (CN) — A physical fitness test that disproportionately disqualified female applicants for a paramedic job with the city of Chicago discriminated against women, the Seventh Circuit ruled.
     Five female licensed paramedics sued the city of Chicago in 2008 for gender discrimination after they failed a physical abilities test that they needed to pass to be hired by the city’s fire department.
     The city admits that its test disqualified a disproportionate number of female applicants, but argued that the test was a reasonable measure of applicants’ ability to handle the physical demands of the job.
     Between 2000 and 2009, 98 percent of male applicants passed the physical abilities test, which included a series of leg lifts, a stair climb and arm strength tests, among others. Only 60 percent of women passed it, court records show.
     All five plaintiffs were experienced paramedics from public and private providers of emergency medical services, and claim they were never unable to care for a patient due to their physical limitations as a woman.
     Their disparate-treatment claims went before a jury, while their disparate-impact claim went to a bench trial. The women lost both trials.
     The Seventh Circuit, however, revived both claims Monday, remanding the first for a new jury trial, and ordering a verdict in favor of the female paramedics on their disparate-impact claim.
     “Here, the jury should have been instructed on the plaintiffs’ burden of proving that Chicago was motivated by anti-female bias, when Chicago created the entrance exam that caused these plaintiffs not to be hired,” Judge Daniel Manion said, writing for a three-judge panel. “Instead, jurors were instructed on a different burden, which failed to address Chicago’s motive for creating the skills test.”
     The erroneous instruction was clearly a pivotal issue for the jury as it asked the judge to more clearly explain the errant instruction, saying it could not deliberate further without a response, then returned a verdict for the defense just four minutes after being told to take the instruction at face value.
     On the disparate-impact claim, the Seventh Circuit found the discrepancies between paramedics’ job performance ratings and physical abilities scores “appear to actually invalidate the physical-skills test.”
     Based on supervisor and peer ratings, female paramedics performed almost the same as male paramedics, with a 90 percent average rating compared to a 93 percent average job performance rating for men. In contrast, the average female physical skills score was only 66.3 percent of the average male score.
     In a close examination of the physical test, the Seventh Circuit found that the physical test is significantly more difficult than the physical demands of the paramedic job.
     For example, the test requires applicants to carry “heavy stretchers up and down for 4 minutes and 20 seconds, with rest times omitted,” Manion wrote. “In contrast, paramedics usually transport relatively lighter stretchers across a distance of 100 feet or less, which should require substantially less than 4 minutes.”
     While there is nothing unfair about woman testing lower on a physical skills test, Manion said, it is unfair when the score differences do not measure actual differences in job performance.
     “This lack of connection between real job skills and tested job skills is, in the end, fatal to Chicago’s case. Thus, the plaintiffs should have prevailed on their Title VII disparate-impact claims,” the panel concluded.

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