Judge: Chicago Firefighters' Exam Biased

CHICAGO (AP) - The entrance exam given to applicants for the Chicago Fire Department in 1995 discriminated against blacks, a federal judge has ruled after a seven-year legal battle.

A lawsuit filed by black applicants alleged the exam's cutoff point for ''well-qualified'' applicants produced a pool of 1,782 candidates that had five times more whites than blacks.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall said the test ''could not distinguish between those who were qualified for the position of (firefighter) and those who were not,'' and she called the cutoff point meaningless.

Gottschall scheduled a hearing for April 26 for the next phase of the case, which will determine damages for the more than 6,000 class-action plaintiffs.

Clyde Murphy, attorney for the plaintiffs, said it was an important victory for the applicants, who scored between 65 and 88 and fell in the ''qualified'' category.

The city has been hiring candidates in that category for the Fire Academy since 2002, when it ran out of ''well-qualified'' applicants who scored 89 and above, and Gottschall said that ultimately invalidated the test and the cutoff score.

Murphy said he would seek damages on behalf of the qualified black applicants, including millions of dollars in back pay that would have gone to the 132 firefighting positions blacks would have won in a fair system.

City officials were disappointed by the ruling, said Jennifer Hoyle of the municipal law department.

''We said all along the test was related to job performance, and it was a valid measure of job performance, which was a conclusion the judge disagreed with,'' she said.