HSPRD and Co-Counsel File New Suit Against Chicago for Sex Discrimination


On October 28, 2016, HSPRD’s Joshua Karsh and Caryn Lederer, and Marni Willenson of Willenson Law, LLC, filed a lawsuit on behalf of 12 female paramedics who were denied employment with the Chicago Fire Department, charging the City with sex discrimination.

The new suit alleges that the City—fresh on the heels of a judgment against it in another case also litigated by Karsh and Willenson—is still erecting legally indefensible barriers to the employment of qualified women.

The focus of the new suit is physical testing that the City administered to candidates for Fire Paramedics jobs during 2014 and 2015. The suit alleges that that testing was unrealistic, did not measure or predict job performance or qualifications, and had only one demonstrated effect—to illegally favor men over women. The suit also alleges that that bias was “not accidental.” Rather, the suit contends, “For the past fifteen years, the City has relied on physical testing to screen out candidates for Fire Paramedic positions not merely in spite of its adverse impact on women but because of it—for the purpose of limiting the number of women employed in uniform positions in the Chicago Fire Department.”

The suit launches a broad attack on sex discrimination in the Chicago Fire Department, stating that discrimination against women in the CFD is “stubborn and purposeful,” reflects “a deep seated hostility within the CFD” to allowing qualified women to serve, and is “standard practice within the CFD”—and that the City’s reliance on physical tests that disproportionately favor men over women “without any job related justification” is only one manifestation of “unequal treatment and hostility to the presence of women in the uniformed ranks of the CFD.” In addition, the suit alleges, the City also fails to accommodate nursing mothers in the CFD; fails to provide female fire paramedics and firefighters with separate or adequate sleeping quarters, showers and dressing and restroom facilities; fails to take appropriate action to correct or eliminate verbal and physical harassment and intimidation of women in the CFD; and subjects women to discriminatory treatment by the Fire Department’s Medical Division.

The suit describes the particular testing procedures used by the City, including one which required candidates for Fire Paramedic jobs to step up onto and down from an 18-inch-high box, continuously for not less than 2 minutes, in cadence with a metronome beating at 112 beats per minute, without breaking cadence for two consecutive beats, while holding two 25-pound weights. The suit alleges that that test “does not simulate actual fire paramedic job performance” and “does not measure or predict minimum qualifications for the Fire Paramedic position.” A columnist in the Chicago Sun Times, discussing the same test, had this to say about it:  “It would never have occurred to me that having rhythm was a prerequisite to being a good paramedic… Obviously,… the department wasn’t really testing for rhythm, otherwise we can all agree more men would have flunked. Rather, they were screening out women…”

HSPRD’s Joshua Karsh said, “The Chicago Fire Department has a sorry history of discouraging and preventing qualified women from serving. Tragically little progress has been made in hiring them into paramedic or firefighter positions in the Department over the last 30 years. Change is overdue. Long overdue. The Fire Department should not be the boys club that it is. That City Hall continues to allow the Fire Department to deny qualified women fire-service jobs is a stain on City Hall and a disservice to residents of the City of Chicago, whom the Fire Department would serve much better if both qualified women and men were allowed to serve.”

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