Firefighter applicants allege new discrimination by CFD

April 19, 2012 3:32:39 PM PDT
Despite a court order, a group of African-American firefighters says the City of Chicago is not treating applicants fairly.

Six thousand African Americans were part of the class action suit who alleged discrimination in 1995 by the Chicago Fire Department. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in August 2011 with a $30 million compensation, and the city was ordered to hire back more than 100 of the applicants. Out of that pool of 6,000 candidates, about 1,600 of them indicated they were still interested in being firefighters. After testing physical ability, background checks and medical exams, that number was whittled down to 111.

Now, some say the criteria for the medical exam to become a firefighter was not fair. Steven Hill and Shondrea Hopkins filed discrimination complaints Thursday. They say they were passed over once again after an initial medical report showed elevated creatine.

"I was hoping to get the job. That's what I was hoping for. That's what I fought for that's what I waited for anticipated since I was a kid almost," Steven Hill said.

"I was hoping to work for the city, and make a difference saving lives and making a difference helping people," Shondrea Hopkins said. "I feel overlooked. I feel like my chances have slipped away."

The American Journal Of Medicine reports "creatine kinase is expressed at high levels in muscle... and the base level of creatine kinase levels are higher in African Americans...(and in all races) men had higher creatine kinase levels than women."

Hill said he got a private doctor's letter giving him clearance. He was made an alternate after buying the academy training uniform.

"A lot of us too were tossed around and pushed around as if we were unhuman in trying to get this job," Hill said.

A Chicago fire department's spokesman said "Two or three applicants [were]excluded solely due to substantially higher than 'normal' ck levels." The spokesperson also said, "We are fully aware that African Americans have naturally higher ck level than other races and that was taken into account when the evaluations were made."

The president of the African American Firefighters League says there were 15 African Americans excluded for high creatine levels.

After a complaint is filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the parties are offered mediation. If that is not satisfactory, the department has a year to investigate and issue a ruling.