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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Lewis v. City of Chicago EE-IL-0268
Docket / Court 1:98-CV-05596 ( N.D. Ill. )
State/Territory Illinois
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Special Collection Private Employment Class Actions
Case Summary
On September 9, 1998, a group of African American applicants for positions as firefighter filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against the City of Chicago in United States District Court in the Northern District of Illinois. The ... read more >
On September 9, 1998, a group of African American applicants for positions as firefighter filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against the City of Chicago in United States District Court in the Northern District of Illinois. The plaintiffs represented by many private counselors including, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Chicago Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, asked the court for injunctive, compensatory and declaratory relief alleging that the City discriminated against African Americans in its application process for positions as firefighters. Specifically, the plaintiffs contend that a 1995 written examination in the application process discriminated against and had a disparate impact on African American applicants and could not be justified as a business necessity.

The lawsuit was brought when the City made results of the 1995 test public in a press release. The written test, scored out of 100, set a threshold of 89 and above as considered "well qualified," and were able to advance to the next stage of the hiring process, a physical exam. Those who scored 65-88 were considered "qualified" and those with a 64 or below failed the exam. On January 26, 1996, Mayor Richard Daly announced the results of the test; those who were within the "well qualified" group were 75.8% white and 11.5% African American. On November 6, 1996, plaintiffs' attorney received a copy of the exam, and results from the city. The attorney then gave the data to a consultant, who, on March 15, 1997, submitted a preliminary report indicating that the test had a substantial adverse impact and was invalid. Over the next year, six plaintiffs filed with the EEOC, and on July 28, 1998, the EEOC issued letters of the right to sue. The plaintiffs filed on September 9, 1998.

On December 15, 1999, the Court (Judge Gottschall) granted class certification.

The City moved for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiffs did not file with the EEOC within 300 days. The Court (Judge Gottschall) denied this motion on the grounds that the City's ongoing refusal to process plaintiff's applications constituted a continuing violation. (Order denying motion for summary judgment 5/25/2000).

In Court, the City conceded that the test had an adverse impact on African Americans, but that the test measured some cognitive skill necessary to training and performing the job of a firefighter and that the cut-off-score of 89 was justified by the administrative convenience of having a certain sized applicant pool. Part of the written examination required the applicant to watch an 89 minute movie and take notes. The applicant was then tested on facts from the movie and could use whatever notes were taken during the process.

On March 22, 2005, the Court (Judge Gottschall) ordered a judgment of liability against the city. In the opinion, the Court stated that there was no statistical relevance of the cut-off-score of 89, that the correct threshold was actually a score of 87 and this administrative decision had an adverse impact on African American applicants. Further, the Court stated that the ability to take notes during the movie is not a skill necessary for firefighters jobs or training. As such, the test was invalid. (Memorandum opinion and order judgment of liability 3/22/2005).

On April, 19, 2007, the Court (Judge Gottschall) ordered injunctive relief for the plaintiffs. The Court stated that the City must place all those in the class in a random database and all class members in the database must have the opportunity to go through the hiring process again. The Court mandated that the City continue to select from this database until 132 class members have gone through the process, accepted their employment offers and then must be trained in the firefighter academy. Once through the academy, the class members would be eligible for positions of seniority, back-pay, and compensation for lost benefits. Further, the Court mandated that plaintiff's attorney's fees be paid by the City. (Injunctive relief order approved 4/19/2007).

On June 7, 2007, the Court (Judge Gottschall) granted defendant's motion for stay pending appeal. The Court recognized the harm the order had on the plaintiffs, who still had not been given their rights to employment. However, the Court justified the stay based on the possible irreparable harm to the City and the public, if the training of the plaintiffs were to proceed and then the courts decision was overturned by a higher court. Lewis et al v. City of Chicago, 1686975 WL 1 (N.D.IL 2007).

Thus, the case is closed, but is pending appeal from the Circuit Court. Until that time, all judgments and orders remain final. No decision from the Circuit Court has come as of 04/20/2008.

Matthew Aibel - 04/20/2008

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Race discrimination
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
42 U.S.C. § 1981
Defendant(s) City of Chicago
Plaintiff Description African-American firefighter applicants who passed the written exam but were not considered for selection
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Megacases, Diversity, and the Elusive Goal of Workplace Reform
Written: Mar. 01, 2008
By: Nancy Levit (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law)
Citation: 49 B.C. L. Rev. 367 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Second Generation Employment Discrimination: A Structural Approach
By: Susan Sturm (Columbia Law School)
Citation: 101 Colum. L. Rev. 458 (2001)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

1:98-cv-05596 (N.D. Ill.) 09/09/1998
EE-IL-0268-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
08-974 (U.S. Supreme Court) 02/22/2010
EE-IL-0268-9001 PDF | Detail
Supreme Court website
General Documents
EE-IL-0268-0004 PDF | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Order denying summary judgment 05/25/2000 (2000 WL 690313) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0003 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order Judgment of Liability Against City 03/22/2005 (2005 WL 693618) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0008 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Injunctive Relief Order (Approved) 04/19/2007 (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0007 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order Granting Stay 06/07/2007 (2007 WL 1686975) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0009 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Opinion (7th Circuit Court of Appeals) 06/04/2008 (528 F.3d 488)
EE-IL-0268-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Transcript of Supreme Court Argument 02/22/2010
EE-IL-0268-0001 PDF | Detail
Press Release 02/22/2010
EE-IL-0268-0005 PDF | Detail
Opinion (U.S. Supreme Court) 05/24/2010 (560 U.S. 205)
EE-IL-0268-0006 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Judges Bauer, William Joseph (Seventh Circuit, N.D. Ill.)
Easterbrook, Frank Hoover (Seventh Circuit)
Gottschall, Joan B. (N.D. Ill.) [Magistrate]
EE-IL-0268-0003 | EE-IL-0268-0007 | EE-IL-0268-0008 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Posner, Richard Allen (Seventh Circuit)
Scalia, Antonin (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Archer, Deborah N. (New York)
EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Arimond, Bridget (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Clayton, Fay (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Colangelo, Matthew B. (District of Columbia)
EE-IL-0268-0004 | EE-IL-0268-9001
Cummings, Jeffrey Irvine (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Hyndman, Cynthia H. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Karsh, Joshua (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Katyal, Neal Kumar (District of Columbia)
Milligan, Joy (New York)
Miner, Judson Hirsch (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000 | EE-IL-0268-9001
Moore, ReNika C (New York)
Murphy, Clyde E. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0004 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Patterson, Patrick O. (Wisconsin)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Payton, John A. (District of Columbia)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0004 | EE-IL-0268-9001
Piers, Matthew J. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Pollack, Joyce Amy (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Rowland, Mary M. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Stroup, Robert H (New York)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Wardell, Laurie Arden (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Willenson, Marni (District of Columbia)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Wilson, Cynthia A. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Winslow, Elyssa Balingit (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Avendano, Naomi Ann (Illinois)
Burke, Edward J. (Illinois)
Cohen, Diane S. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Crowe, Brian L. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Dominguez, Blanca R. (Illinois)
Harper, Valerie Depies (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009
Horwitz, Stephen Bernard (Illinois)
Kertez, Jay Michael (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Ladner, Tracey Renee (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Pinelli, Vincent Dominick (Illinois)
Robling, Kenneth Charles (Illinois)
Rocks, Patrick J. Jr. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Solomon, Benna R. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-9001
Wichern, Nadine J (Illinois)
Other Lawyers Browne, Sharon L. (California)
Kagan, Elena (District of Columbia)
Koerner, Leonard J. (New York)
Norton, Helen L. (Colorado)
Russell, Kevin K. (District of Columbia)
Vann, Rae T. (District of Columbia)

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