Chicago Fire Discrimination Suit to Proceed

In a ruling handed down yesterday, the City of Chicago was successful in getting part of a sexual discrimination suit brought against the fire department dismissed, but the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has ruled that a female fire-paramedic candidate who filed an earlier suit in 2016 will be allow to pursue certain of her claims in a second suit filed last year.

Donna Griffin applied to become a Fire Paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department, and was accepted into the CFD Training Academy in 2015. She was terminated in August, 2016. The facts as explained in the ruling are as follows:

  • At the Academy, the CFD required Griffin to take two physical tests: a “Lifting and Moving Sequence” and a “Step Test.”
  • These tests, however, did not measure a candidate’s qualifications to work as a Fire Paramedic; rather, the CFD administered these tests solely to eliminate women from the Academy.
  • Griffin was injured while performing the Lifting and Moving Sequence.
  • The following year, in August 2016, the CFD terminated Griffin’s employment.
  • In October 2016, Griffin and several other female paramedics filed the Livingston lawsuit (Livingston v. City of Chicago, No. 16 C 10156 (N.D. Ill.)), alleging that the City discriminated against them based on their sex.
  • In connection with the parties’ attempts to make progress in settling Livingston, the City agreed to conditionally hire Griffin as a CFD Fire Paramedic candidate pending medical processing.
  • Griffin had to meet all of the CFD’s current hiring standards, which included passing a medical evaluation, to enter the April 2019 Paramedic Training Academy class.

Griffin was unable to obtain the required medical clearance and in March, 2019 was told she would not be allowed to enter the April 2019 academy. That decision led to a court approved agreement between the parties to have her submit to an independent medical examination which would be binding on both sides. The court referred to this decision as “the end of the line” for her application. The IME concluded she was not fit for duty, and thus she was not admitted to the April, 2019 academy.

In June, 2019 Griffin reapplied for admission to the academy and her application was initially accepted. She was thereafter informed that she was “ineligible for rehire”. That prompted Griffin to file complaints with the Illinois’ Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging gender discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation based upon the March, 2019 denial of her admission to the April 2019 academy; the  April 2019 “end of the line” decision; the denial of her June 2019 application; and the City’s designation of her as being ineligible for rehire (“IFR”). She then filed her 2019 discrimination suit.

In yesterday’s ruling, US District Court Judge Sara L. Ellis granted the city’s motion to dismiss Griffin’s claims relative to the March, 2019 failure to medically clear her, since that issue was resolved by agreement of the parties in the earlier lawsuit. As explained by Judge Ellis:

  • Griffin expressly agreed that if an IME took place in connection with her opportunity to enter the April 2019 Academy class, the IME’s determination as to her fitness for duty “shall be binding upon the parties.”
  • Griffin also confirmed in open court that the result of the IME process would be binding and that she would accept the IME conclusion, favorable or not.
  • Because Griffin did not satisfy the condition of her conditional instatement—medical clearance by the IME—the parties’ agreement and the Court’s rulings thereby required the City to remove Griffin from the Academy.
  • Griffin may proceed with her claims to the extent they rely upon (1) the City’s April 2019 discharge of Griffin from the Academy; (2) the City’s June 2019 denial of Griffin’s application; and (3) the City’s IFR determination.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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