In 1995, Chicago paid $5 million for an African-American consultant to work with a blue-ribbon panel to devise a race-neutral exam for promoting firefighters. Unfortunately, in the end result, whites were twice as likely to score “well-qualified” as blacks. In 2002, when it ran out of candidates who scored 89, Chicago stopped requiring that promoted firefighters score that high, and a federal district court has decided as a result that the test was racially discriminatory for the previous seven years. Chicago taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as an additional $80 million in back pay and front pay. (Glenn Jeffers, “Judge rules city fire exam biased”, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 23; AP/Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 23; Fran Spielman, “Exam bias ruling may cost city $80 million in firefighter lawsuit”, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 24).
A question for readers: none of the press has mentioned it, but, in 2001, a labor arbitrator ruled that the city discriminates against whites when it promotes a lower-scoring minority over a white. (Fran Spielman, “City ordered to promote white firefighters”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 14, 2001). In 2002, a federal jury found that the 1986 test was fair, and that the city discriminated by promoting lower-scoring minorities over whites, awarding millions. (AP, May 18, 2002). These would appear to put the city in an impossible position. Or has something happened in the interim that obviates these earlier rulings?
As an experiment, I’ve opened comments; please restrict your remarks to this latter question, and please remain civil and respectful.
The decisions are arguably reconcilable: the two exams are different; Biondo involved an explicit quota. On the other hand, page 5 of the Biondo slip opinion explicitly endorsed the methodology used by Chicago that the district court condemned this week.