Things keep getting worse for the city of Chicago as it finally prepares to pony up for a discriminatory entrance exam its fire department used 17 years ago.
The city and its taxpayers will now have to pay $78.4 million to almost 6,000 African-Americans who were denied employment due to a biased hiring test the city devised in 1995.
That’s twice as much as the plaintiffs’ attorney said the city would owe when estimates of back pay and damages were put together last year.
78% of those hired were white
Here’s how the case shook out:
Chicago’s fire department, which had had issues with discrimination in the past, hired an African-American man in 1995 to put together an entrance exam in the hopes of diversifying the department’s racial makeup.
When the test results came in, though, the results from minority applicants were disappointing.
The fire department then decided to set a cutoff score of 89 for the test and hire randomly from the 1,800 people above that score who were classified as “well-qualified.”
That was a mistake, though: 78% of those hired were white.
The African-Americans who had passed test but didn’t meet the arbitrary cutoff mark set after the fact sued, saying the hiring procedures had an adverse effect on blacks. The case wound its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2010 in favor of the black firefighters who weren’t hired.
Last year, the city agreed to pay what was then estimated to be about $30 million to $40 million in damages as well as hire 111 black firefighters who were passed over due to the initial test.
So how did the payout get to $78.4 million? After calculating wage increases over time, the breakdown included:
- $51.4 million in back pay for 5,850 people (about $9,000 to $11,000 per person, depending on the number of people who file claims to receive their share)
- $8.3 million for the firefighters’ pension fund as the employees’ contribution to cover the 111 African-American men who were hired, and
- $18.7 million for the pension fund as the city’s contribution.
So what can HR learn from this nearly two-decade-long debacle? Good intentions can still come back to bite you.
The city clearly was attempting to take steps to eliminate bias complaints it had dealt with in the past.
Its mistake: Altering the test after the fact– and then refusing to admit its mistake.
As plaintiffs’ attorney Matt Piers told the Chicago Sun-Times:
“If the city had hired at random from among those who passed the test, like plaintiffs’ counsel asked them to do before the lawsuit was filed, there would have been no violation of the law and no massive back-pay award.”