Chicago Sued by Twelve Fire Lieutenants Alleging Racially Discriminatory Captain’s Process

Twelve African American fire lieutenants with the Chicago Fire Department have filed suit claiming they were discriminated against on account of their race in the scoring of a promotional process for captain in 2017.

Velisa Eison, Timothy Northcross, Shane Lundy-Bey, Gregory Boggs, Lydara Turner, Sedalia Peoples, Jermaine Miller, Aaron Beals, Sean Washington, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Greene, and Zachary Henry filed suit this week in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The complaint alleges that the scoring process had an adverse impact on African Americans compared to Caucasians. The discrepancy was brought to the city’s attention and could have been rectified by taking one of several actions including adjusting the weighting between the written, oral and seniority scores. However, the city opted not to do so.

The scoring system is complicated and is explained in the complaint as follows:

  • On October 19, 2018, Defendant, CHICAGO posted PLAINTIFFS’ results of the Fire Captain Promotional Exam as follows:
  • PLAINTIFF
    • MILLER                        67.143
    • LUNDY-BEY                64.910
    • SMITH                         66.423
    • HENRY                        57.934
    • EISON                         51.766
    • BOGGS                       60.858
    • WASHINGTON          69.765
    • BEALS                        69.852
    • TURNER                     60.760
    • GREENE                     65.353
    • NORTHCROSS          65.599
    • PEOPLES                   49.562
  • Defendant, CHICAGO’s method of scoring PLAINTIFFS’ Fire Captain Promotional Exam results was improper and did not comply with Sections 9.3, 13.1 and 13.4, and Appendix G of the Agreement. Specifically, CHICAGO separately calculated PLAINTIFFS’ written and oral component scores using a “linear transformation re-scaled” method which awarded a maximum “transformed” score of thirty-five (35) points to the individual who achieved the “highest” raw score or “most correct” answer on a particular written a..,d oral component, while awarding a “transformed” minimum score of one (1) point to the individual who scored the “lowest” raw score or “least correct” answer on a particular written and oral component, even though said “lowest” or “least correct” response was still deemed “correct.”
  • Pursuant to Defendant, CHICAGO’s “linear transformation” methodology, the highest raw score achieved by a participant of the 2017 Fire Captain Promotional Exam on the written component is assigned thirty-five (35) points regardless of the number of questions answered correctly. Similarly, the lowest score achieved on the written component of the Exam is assigned one (1) point regardless of the number of questions answered correctly.
  • The written exam component of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotional Exam contained 120 items. All items were equally weighted one (1) point apiece and the maximum achievable raw score was 120 points. The highest achieved raw score by a participant on the written component of the Exam was 117 points out of a possible 120 points, and, using Defendant, CHICAGO’s “linear transformation” scoring methodology, this(these) participant(s) received a perfect “transformed” score of thirty-five (35) points on a thirty-five (35) point scale despite not achieving a perfect score on the written component. The minimum achieved raw score by a participant on the written component of the Exam was 64 points out of a possible 120 points, and, using CHICAGO’ s “linear transformation” scoring methodology, this raw score was assigned a “transformed” score of one (I) point on a thirty-five (35) point scale despite earning approximately 53% of the available raw points employing a pro-rata scoring method.
  • The maximum available points for the oral component of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotional Exam was 227. The maximum raw score achieved by a participant of the Exam was 195.0 out of a possible 227 points, and, using Defendant, CHICAGO’s “linear transformation” methodology, this(these) participant(s) was assigned a perfect transformed score of thirty-five (35) points on a thirty-five (35) point scale despite not achieving a perfect score on the oral component.
  • The minimum achieved raw score by a participant on the oral component of the Exam was 68.0 points out of a possible 227 points, and, using CHICAGO’s “linear transformation” scoring methodology, this raw score was assigned a “transformed” score of one (1) point on a thirty-five (35) point despite earning approximately 30% of the available raw points employing a pro-rata scoring method.
  • By re-scaling PLAINTIFFS’ written and oral component scores separately using a “linear transformation re-scaled” method, and more importantly by awarding a set number of thirty-five (35) points to the individual who was graded as having the “most correct” answers and a set number of one (1) point to the individual who was graded as having the “least correct” answers, rather than using their raw scores based on a pro-rata scoring method, Defendant, CHICAGO de facto curved the scores of all the participants of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotional Exam. Moreover, this curve inflated scores of some applicants while simultaneously deflating scores of other applicants.
  • Additionally, CHICAGO’ s applicant eligibility list was ranked in order of applicants’ final “linear transformation scaled score” rather than their actual “raw” scores, which resulted in individuals with higher “raw” final scores being ranked below individuals with lower “raw” final scores. In other words, CHICAGO’s ranking of PLAINTIFFS on the Fire Captain Promotional Exam was improperly determined, in part, by the performance of other applicants.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendant, CHICAGO’ s “linear transformation scaled” scoring method caused PLAINTIFFS to receive scores below 70 even though their percent correct out of35 points each on the written and oral criteria provided them scores equal to or above 70. Had CHICAGO scored PLAINTIFFS’ written and oral components based upon the percentage of answers deemed “correct” to the total possible points and then applied the relative weight of 35% to the results, PLAINTIFFS’ scores would have been at 70 or above.
  • The scoring method implemented by Defendant, CHICAGO violated Sections 9.3, 13.1 and 13.4, and Appendix G of the Agreement and discriminated against PLAINTIFFS as it artificially deflated PLAINTIFFS’ scores and thus did not accurately measure their performance on the 2017 Fire Captain Promotion Exam.
  • Defendant, CHICAGO was advised of the discriminatory nature of its scoring method of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotion Exam in its Technical Manual for Fire Caption Promotional Process.
  • Because the scoring methodology of the written and/or oral criteria of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotional Exam was discriminatory in nature due to having an adverse impact on African Americans, Defendant, CHICAGO could have increased the weight of the seniority criteria and lowered the weight of the written and oral criteria to eliminate said discriminatory impact.
  • However, CHICAGO chose not to do so in violation of Sections 9.3, 13.1 and 13.4, and Appendix G of the Agreement.
  • Because the scoring methodology of the written and/or oral criteria of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotional Exam was determined to be discriminatory in nature due to having an adverse impact on African Americans, Defendant, CHICAGO could have promoted applicants, including PLAINTIFFS, to the rank of Fire Captain even though they achieved a score below seventy (70), because a score of seventy (70) has no bearing on a particular applicant’s ability to perform the job duties of a Fire Captain, nor can it be proven an applicant who scored below seventy (70) is less qualified than an applicant who scored a seventy (70) or better.
  • However, CHICAGO chose not to do so in violation of Sections 9.3, 13.1 and 13.4, and Appendix G of the Agreement.
  • Because the “linear transformation re-scaled” scoring methodology of the written and/or oral criteria of the 2017 Fire Captains Promotion Exam was determined to be discriminatory in nature due to having an adverse impact on African Americans, Defendant, CHICAGO could have changed the scoring methodology to a “raw pro-rata” scoring method which did not adversely impact African Americans. However, CHICAGO chose not to do so in violation of Section 9.3 and Appendix G of the Agreement.
  • Despite knowing its “linear transformation re-scaled” method of scoring the 2017 Fire Captains Promotion Exam discriminated against African Americans, including PLAINTIFFS, Defendant, CHICAGO wilfully failed to eliminate it in favor of a “raw pro-rata” scoring method in violation of Sections 9.3, 13.1 and 13.4, and Appendix G of the Agreement, which clearly call for the elimination of any such examination procedures which have the effect of discriminating against Blacks.
  • Defendant, CHICAGO’ s actions as set forth above is consistent with its long standing pattern and practice of routinely ignoring the provisions and mandates of “Appendix G – Equal Opportunity” which was included and made a part of the Agreement in order to rectify and address years of unlawful racial discriminatory conduct CHICAGO perpetuated within the CFD.

The suit alleges a single count of race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964.

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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