HSPRD Shareholder Joshua Karsh helps bring home victory for female paramedics against City of Chicago
Another blow to Chicago Fire Department hiring practices
CHICAGO (September 19, 2016)—
In the latest legal blow to the Chicago Fire Department’s hiring practices, today the federal Court of Appeals in Chicago struck down a “physical performance” test used by Chicago to hire paramedics for the Fire Department, giving a victory to female paramedics who were denied employment solely because of their scores on that test. The test rejected by the Court today was used by the City for more than a decade to screen applicants for paramedic positions. As the Court of Appeals confirmed today, the test illegally discriminated against women.
Today’s appellate decision–in Ernst v. City of Chicago—was argued on appeal by HSPRD shareholder Joshua Karsh, who was also a trial lawyer for the plaintiffs. The trial court had ruled, in error, that the City’s reliance on physical performance testing, which disproportionately denied employment to women, did not illegally discriminate against female applicants. Today, the Court of Appeals disagreed, declaring the City’s test invalid, unreliable, and illegal.
This is the latest chapter in a long saga of discrimination within the Chicago Fire Department–and only the most recent victory for Karsh and HSPRD against the City and the Fire Department. The City has been mired in litigation over discriminatory hiring practices in the Fire Department for years now. In 2013 and 2014, the City settled two class action lawsuits with women rejected for employment based on physical performance tests designed by the same test developer whose test was struck down today by the Court of Appeals. Those settlements, in Vasich v. City of Chicago and Godfrey v. City of Chicago, led to the hiring of more than 40 women as firefighters. In 2012, in Lewis v. City of Chicago lawsuit, a suit litigated by HSPRD shareholders Matt Piers and Joshua Karsh, HSPRD obtained a judgment against the City for discriminating against African American applicants for firefighter positions. As a result of that suit, the City was ordered to hire 111 African-American firefighters—the largest group of African Americans ever hired into a Fire Department.
The paramedic plaintiffs, who were the winners today, celebrated today’s decision. Plaintiff Stacy Ernst said: “Justice has prevailed. Today is a great day.” Plaintiff Irene Res added that: “Today, justice has finally been served. We brought this case over ten years ago, for all of the women who came before us and were told they just aren’t good enough—when in fact they were—and for all of the women who will come after us and succeed. Today, the Court agreed with us that the test used for all of those years had nothing to do with what we paramedics do on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate the City was able to eliminate so many qualified women who are great paramedics and who would have done a great service to the public and the City. No woman should ever be told that she can’t do this job because of her gender.”
Between 2000 and 2009, nearly 1,100 applicants for paramedic positions were required to take the discriminatory test that the Court of Appeals struck down. The test had a negligible effect on men: 98 percent of the male applicants passed. By contrast, 40 percent of the women taking the test did not and, as a result, were denied the job. In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeals rejected the City’s attempts to defend this disparity. Casting aside the City’s assertions that the test was necessary, the court of appeals held that it was not, that the test did not measure job skills, that there was no evidence that differences in scores would be reflected in differences in job performance, and that that was “fatal to Chicago’s case.” The Court emphasized that “difference[s] in score[s] must correlate with a difference in job performance.” Here, they did not.
As the Court of Appeals also noted, equal employment opportunity is not only the law, in this case it is also good for healthcare: “Patients can benefit from coed paramedic teams.”
HSPRD shareholder Joshua Karsh said: “We hope the lesson is clear: tests administered to measure job qualifications must actually measure job qualifications. When a test doesn’t measure job qualifications and it’s real effect (and often it’s real purpose) is to keep women out of the workforce, the test is illegal. Single-gender workforces, like single race workforces, are both discriminatory and bad for business. They harm performance, service, and quality. The City, the Fire Department, and the residents of Chicago will all benefit from hiring more women into the Fire Department.”
The plaintiffs in the case were Stacy Ernst, Irene Res, Kathy Kean, Dawn Hoard, and Michelle Lahalih—all experienced paramedics. The women were represented by Joshua Karsh, of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, together with Chicago attorneys Marni Willenson of Willenson Law, LLC, Susan P. Malone, and David Borgen of the Oakland law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian, & Ho.