By KAREN HAWKINS
CHICAGO (AP) _ Some 6,000 African Americans who passed a Chicago Fire Department entrance exam nearly 16 years ago will walk away with either jobs or cash under a federal court order entered Wednesday.
The city of Chicago must hire 111 of the applicants and provide $30 million in back pay to the others. The new hires are expected to enter the Chicago Fire Training Academy by the end of March 2012.
The court order stems from a firefighting entrance exam given in 1995 that was later found to be discriminatory against black candidates.
Anyone who scored 64 or below on the test was deemed not qualified, but officials told those who scored above that number that while they passed, they would randomly hire the top 1,800 who scored 89 or better. Because only 11 percent of the African Americans scored 89 or better, the overwhelming number of applicants hired from that test were white.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the test was discriminatory because there was no evidence that the applicant who scored 89 or better would be a better firefighter than another who scored a 64. In 2005, a federal judge agreed, saying in her ruling that the city knew the cutoff point was meaningless and would disproportionately exclude African Americans from the pool of candidates most likely to be hired.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the candidates did not wait too long to sue the city.
The fire department will hire 111 of the black applicants who scored between 65 and 88 on the test, and their pensions will be adjusted to include back contributions. Before being hired, they must pass the physical abilities test, background check, drug test and medical exam. Applicants who still aren’t hired will receive a monetary award.
The rest of the 6,000 applicants will split the $30 million in back pay, receiving about $5,000 each.
The physical test should begin being administered in October, said Chicago spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle.
She said the city is working as quickly as possible to comply with the order and has made initial strides toward contacting the 6,000 applicants.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys are “pleased and relieved that it is finally going to end,” said attorney Matthew Piers. “The outcome is a very good one for the class members.”
Piers called the order a significant addition toward the goal of integrating the Chicago Fire Department.
He said applicants’ interest in the case hasn’t diminished over the years, and he expected his firm to get several dozen calls from them Wednesday.