On May 13, 2011, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals entered an opinion in Lewis v. City of Chicago. The case will now proceed to the stage where the trial court decides how to remedy Chicago’s discrimination against African Americans who applied for firefighter positions. It is reported that Chicago will have to hire 111 African American firefighters and pay roughly $30 million to the people it discriminated against.
This was a “disparate impact” case. An employer can sometimes violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act even if it engages in a seemingly non-discriminatory practice, such as administering an entrance exam to job applicants. If the entrance exam does not predict which applicants will do the job better than others, and it has a significant disparate impact on women or minorities, the employer cannot use the exam to select applicants. If it does–as Chicago did in this case–it violates Title VII. When an employer uses a test to select applicants that does not measure applicants’ aptitude for the job and that disproportionately screens out minorities, it is in everyone’s interest to find a new test.