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Lewis v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 13, 2014

ARTHUR L. LEWIS, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

Following an eight-day bench trial in January 2004, this court entered judgment of liability against the City of Chicago (the "City"), finding that the manner in which the City had hired firefighters based on a 1995 written examination was unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e, et seq. The court then conducted a hearing and considered briefing regarding the appropriate remedy. On March 20, 2007, the court issued a decision on the subject of remedies. The court ordered the City to hire 132 firefighters from the plaintiff class and ordered the City to grant the firefighters retroactive seniority dating back to the date they would have been hired had the City not unlawfully discriminated against them. After the judgment was affirmed on appeal, the court entered an injunctive order which clarified that the firefighters were entitled to retroactive seniority "for all purposes for which seniority is considered."

Some of the firefighters hired as part of the class in this case have since asked the Chicago Fire Department (the "CFD") to add two "service bars" to their dress uniforms, which they wear on formal occasions. A service bar is a stripe that is worn on the shoulder of a firefighter's uniform. The CFD typically permits firefighters to wear two service bars once they have served in the department for ten years. The CFD refused to allow the plaintiffs here to wear service bars, claiming that they have not earned the right to wear the bars because they have not served in the department for ten years. The firefighters then filed this motion, arguing that the court's injunctive order requires the CFD to award them two service bars.

As explained below, the court finds this to be a challenging question. Nevertheless, the court ultimately finds in favor of the plaintiffs, who would have been awarded the service bars had the City not unlawfully discriminated against them. Accordingly, the plaintiffs' motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Court's Decision on Remedies

The court's decision on remedies highlighted the difficulty in crafting appropriate relief in this case. Although the court strove to give the plaintiffs the make-whole relief that Title VII contemplates, this was impractical for various reasons. The plaintiff class was composed of approximately 6, 000 African-Americans who applied for entry-level firefighter jobs, but only 132 of them would have been hired had the hiring process not been discriminatory. There was no way to know who would have been hired, so the court ordered that the new hires be chosen by lot. The court noted that although this was an imperfect solution, it was a fair solution under the circumstances.

Similarly, with respect to the issue of promotions, the court had to weigh making the plaintiffs whole against the potential disruption that promoting firefighters with less experience would cause in the department. The plaintiffs sought to reduce the "time-in-grade" requirement for promotion from fifty-four months to thirty months. They argued that a reduction to thirty months was an important part of making them whole. But considering the potential disruption this would have on the department and its public safety mission, the court ultimately denied this request.

After resolving the parties' disputes on the subject of remedies, the court directed the parties to prepare an agreed injunctive order that conformed to the court's decision. That injunctive order includes a section titled "Retroactive Seniority." It states:

B. Retroactive Seniority
1. Constructive Seniority Date. Any class member hired pursuant to the terms of this Order shall be entitled, after completion of the contractual nine-month probationary period of employment, to retroactive seniority credit dating back to June 1, 1999 for all purposes for which seniority is considered except
(a) sections 9.3(B)(1) and (2) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement [relating to promotions] and
(b) the seven or more years of service required of a fireman to be eligible for an occupational disease disability benefit pursuant to 40 ILCS 5/6-151.1 of the Illinois Pension Code ("Code").
For purposes of section 9.3(B)(1) and (2) and the seven-year service requirement of 40 ILCS 5/6-151.1, a class member's seniority date shall be the actual date each such class member enters the Chicago Fire ...

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