Excerpts from the ChicagoSunTimes.com
Discrimination lawsuits involving the Chicago Fire Department’s hiring and promotions have cost taxpayers nearly $92 million over the past nine years — easily outpacing all other major cities except New York.
Chicago police misconduct cases have been in the spotlight over the past few years, but the array of discrimination lawsuits aimed at the fire department is also rapidly burning through city cash, a Better Government Association analysis of city data shows.
Chicago’s fire department long had few African-American firefighters, and its first women didn’t join until 1986. And change even after that has come only in fits and starts that has contributed to mounting legal bills for the city.
As recently as December, the Chicago City Council approved the final payout of a $7 million settlement with 59 African-American women who sued over a physical skills test the fire department once required of job candidates.
Since 2008 — the furthest back that records were readily available — Chicago has paid nearly $92 million in workplace discrimination cases involving the fire department. The cost has been flying under the radar for years and dwarfs the total of similar payouts for all other major U.S. cities except New York, records show.
The vast majority of the Chicago payouts – more than $85 million – have been made since Rahm Emanuel became mayor in 2011, though many of the underlying lawsuits predated his time in office.
The $92 million total stems from about a dozen lawsuits. Though one suit that cost the city $6 million was a reverse discrimination case, the others focused on discrimination against minorities and women. Specifics vary from case to case, but in general plaintiffs accused the fire department of broad discrimination in both hiring and promotions based on race, gender and disabilities.
The tab includes not just settlements and judgments but also court costs and fees. On top of that, the city has also spent at least $2.2 million in just the past two years on outside attorneys to handle fire department discrimination lawsuits on the city’s behalf.
By far the biggest bill to the city stems from the 1998 case brought by minority job applicants who argued a pre-employment written test was biased. After losing several times in court, including in the U.S. Supreme Court, the city has paid more than $75 million in damages, back pension payments, and fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Almost all of the payments in the so-called “Lewis” class have occurred since Emanuel’s 2011 election.
Under Emanuel, the city has been aggressive in moving to settle lingering discrimination cases involving the fire department.
Of the 10 largest cities in the nation, only New York’s tab of about $109 million since 2008 exceeded the legal costs incurred by Chicago. New York’s fire department has more than 15,000 firefighters compared to 4,900 for Chicago.
While the largest payments stemmed from actions that occurred during Daley’s tenure as mayor, the swirl of accusations about department wrongdoing continues.