University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
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 firefighter applicants in Chicago filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, proceeding under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against the City of ... read more >
On September 9, 1998, a group of African American firefighter applicants in Chicago filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, proceeding under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against the City of Chicago. Represented by several lawyers, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Chicago Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, plaintiffs sought injunctive, compensatory and declaratory relief, alleging 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 after 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 "well qualified,” allowing applicants 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. 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 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 complaints with the EEOC, and on July 28, 1998, the EEOC issued letters of the right to sue. The plaintiffs filed suit on September 9, 1998.

On December 15, 1999, the Court (Judge Gottschall) granted class certification. Though the original opinion is unavailable, future court orders describe the class as "approximately 6,000 African-Americans who applied for entry-level firefighter jobs with the City and scored from 65 to 88 (inclusive) on the 1995 firefighter written examination." (Quoting a March 20, 2007 opinion, 2007 WL 869559)

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 the plaintiff's applications constituted a continuing violation. 2000 WL 690313.

Litigation and discovery continued for the next several years.

On March 22, 2005, Judge Gottschall found the city liable for race discrimination. In the opinion, the Court stated that there was no statistical relevance to the cut-off score of 89, that the correct threshold was actually a score of 87, and that 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. 2005 WL 693618.

For the next two years, the parties litigated the plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief. On April, 19, 2007, the Court ordered injunctive relief for the plaintiffs, requiring the City to place all class members in a database and give them the opportunity to go through the hiring process again. The Court mandated that the City select new employees from this database until 132 class members went through the process, accepted their employment offers, and received training 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 the plaintiffs’ attorney's fees be paid by the City. 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24378. The City appealed on May 4, 2007.

On June 7, 2007, the Court granted City’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. 2007 WL 1686975.

On September 2, 2008, the Seventh Circuit (Chief Judge Easterbrook) found that the plaintiffs’ suit was untimely, a “fatal mistake,” since the 300 day limit for filing such claim began when the plaintiffs learned that they had been placed in the “qualified” category and that city would be hiring those in the “well qualified” category. Thus, the time for filing a Title VII claim began when the discriminatory decision was made and not when it was executed. The Seventh Circuit reversed the District Court’s judgment and with directions to enter judgment for the City. On remand, on October 9, 2008, Judge Gottschall vacated the earlier order that entered injunctive relief and judgment for plaintiffs and instead entered a judgment for the City.

On January 21, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, which was granted on Sept. 30, 2009.

On May 24, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit’s judgment. It found that a plaintiffs may file Title VII disparate impact claim within 300 days after the employer executed the allegedly unlawful practice as long as the plaintiffs alleged each of the elements of a disparate impact claim. The Supreme Court found that the case turned on whether the firefighters’ claims stated a Title VII violation, and concluded that the firefighters successfully stated a Title VII violation within the claim-filing period when they alleged that the city caused a disparate impact on African Americans each time it used its hiring list. In other words, the City’s application of that practice in question gave rise not to a new claim nor a new violation, but rather the same disparate impact claim. Additionally, the time to file renewed whenever the City used a test to make hiring decisions. The Supreme Court remanded the case back for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. 130 S.Ct. 2191.

On June 6, 2011, the Seventh Circuit (Chief Judge Easterbrook) affirmed the the district court’s April 2007 judgment ordering injunctive relief for the plaintiffs, except with respect to the remedy based on the first batch of hires. The Seventh Circuit remanded with instructions to modify the remedy to eliminate any relief based on the hires of May 1996 because that charge came too late to contest these employment decisions as the Supreme Court stated. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs demonstrated that the City’s use of cut-off score had a disparate impact. 643 F.3d 201.

Finally back in the district court, on August 17, 2011, Judge Gottshall issued an injunctive order favoring 111 class members. The order provided rightful place hiring and retroactive seniority credit dating back to June 1999. Additionally, the order provided back pay that consisted of attrition, lost wages and non-pension fringe benefits, mitigating earnings from interim employment, prejudgment interest, funding of pension and other applicable benefit plans and programs back to June 1999. The court was to henceforth retain jurisdiction solely with regard to the enforcement of the order.

Over the subsequent years, individuals occasionally filed motions to intervene, but all such motions were denied on the basis of untimeliness.

On August 12, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the seniority provisions of the injunctive relief order. Specifically, the firefighters who filed the motion argued that the court’s injunctive order required the City to award them two service bars (a stripe pin that is provided when firefighters served in the department for ten years). On February 13, 2014, the Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion, arguing they would have been awarded the service bars had the City not unlawfully discriminated against them. As such, the firefighters hired pursuant to the Court’s judgment were permitted to wear two service bars on their dress uniforms. 2014 WL 562527.

Regarding attorneys’ fees, the Court awarded the plaintiffs $137,194.83 for costs accrued since September 2011 and an additional $1.39 million on December 27, 2013 and March 21, 2014, respectively.

On March 22, 2016, an individual plaintiff filed a motion to enforce the employment provisions of the injunctive order, which the court denied without prejudice on August 8, 2016, because the individual also filed a disability discrimination case against the City pending before Judge Tharp (Gray Jr v. City of Chicago) and the summary judgment filings in that case showed substantial overlap with the issues raised in this case.

The case is closed, though the court retains jurisdiction over the enforcement of the injunction.

Matthew Aibel - 04/20/2008
MJ Koo - 04/09/2017
Virginia Weeks - 11/15/2017

compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Affected Gender
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Preliminary relief granted
Retroactive Seniority
Utilize objective hiring/promotion criteria
Race discrimination
Disparate Impact
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1981
Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) City of Chicago
Plaintiff Description African-American firefighter applicants who passed the written exam but were not considered for selection
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filing Year 1998
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  Lewis v. City of Chicago: "The Chicago Firefighters Case"
Date: Feb. 14, 2014
By: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

08-974 (U.S. Supreme Court)
EE-IL-0268-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2010
Source: Supreme Court website
1:98-cv-05596 (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/08/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
EE-IL-0268-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Order denying summary judgment [ECF# 94] (2000 WL 690313) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/25/2000
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order Judgment of Liability Against City [ECF# 274] (2005 WL 693618) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/22/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Injunctive Relief Order (Approved) [ECF# 405] (2007 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 24378) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0007.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/19/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order Granting Stay (2007 WL 1686975) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/07/2007
Opinion (7th Circuit Court of Appeals) [Ct. of App. ECF# 46] (528 F.3d 488)
EE-IL-0268-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/04/2008
[Opinion] [Ct. of App. ECF# 447]
EE-IL-0268-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/02/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Transcript of Supreme Court Argument
EE-IL-0268-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2010
Press Release
EE-IL-0268-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2010
Opinion (U.S. Supreme Court) (560 U.S. 205)
EE-IL-0268-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/24/2010
Opinion (130 S.Ct. 2191)
EE-IL-0268-0011.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/24/2010
Source: Supreme Court website
[Opinion] [Ct. of App. ECF# 459] (643 F.3d 201)
EE-IL-0268-0012.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/06/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Injunctive Order of Relief [ECF# 470] (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0019.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/17/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion (702 F.3d 958)
EE-IL-0268-0013.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/17/2012
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
Order Regarding Godfrey v. City of Chicago [ECF# 637] (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/04/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 661] (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/25/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce and For a Rule to Show Cause [ECF# 672]
EE-IL-0268-0017.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/12/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 698] (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0016.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/27/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 698] (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0020.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/27/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion & Order [ECF# 714] (2014 WL 562527) (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0018.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/13/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 722] (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0021.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/21/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Bauer, William Joseph (N.D. Ill., Seventh Circuit)
EE-IL-0268-0002 | EE-IL-0268-0010 | EE-IL-0268-0012
Easterbrook, Frank Hoover (Seventh Circuit)
EE-IL-0268-0002 | EE-IL-0268-0010 | EE-IL-0268-0012 | EE-IL-0268-0013
Gottschall, Joan B. (N.D. Ill.)
EE-IL-0268-0003 | EE-IL-0268-0007 | EE-IL-0268-0008 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-0014 | EE-IL-0268-0015 | EE-IL-0268-0016 | EE-IL-0268-0018 | EE-IL-0268-0019 | EE-IL-0268-0020 | EE-IL-0268-0021 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Manion, Daniel Anthony (Seventh Circuit)
Posner, Richard Allen (Seventh Circuit)
EE-IL-0268-0002 | EE-IL-0268-0010 | EE-IL-0268-0012 | EE-IL-0268-0013
Scalia, Antonin (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
EE-IL-0268-0006 | EE-IL-0268-0011
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adegbile, Debo Patrick (New York)
EE-IL-0268-0017 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Archer, Deborah N. (New York)
EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Arimond, Bridget (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Civin, Joshua I. (District of Columbia)
EE-IL-0268-0017 | 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
Heffner, Matthew Thomas (Illinois)
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-0268-0017 | 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-0268-0017 | EE-IL-0268-9000 | EE-IL-0268-9001
Mitchell, Gregory T. (Illinois)
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-0268-0017 | 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
Strauss, Paul Leonard (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0017 | 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)
Donham, Cary E. (Illinois)
Harper, Valerie Depies (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Horwitz, Stephen Bernard (Illinois)
Jackson, Heather Ann (Illinois)
Kennedy, John Francis (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)
Ramsey, Douglas Michael (Illinois)
Reilly-Bates, Gabriel (Illinois)
Robling, Kenneth Charles (Illinois)
Rocks, Patrick J. Jr. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-0009 | EE-IL-0268-9000
Schaller, Rachel L. (Illinois)
Slagel, Allan T. (Illinois)
Solomon, Benna R. (Illinois)
EE-IL-0268-0001 | EE-IL-0268-9001
Thornton-Pierce, Sherri (Illinois)
Wichern, Nadine J (Illinois)
Other Lawyers Browne, Sharon L. (California)
Hara, Glenn L. (Illinois)
Hurst, Matthew Todd (Illinois)
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)

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -