Women denied firefighter jobs may reapply

May 4, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The female applicants were rejected because they failed the Fire Department's physical abilities test, but the lawsuit alleged that the test was discriminatory because it lacked a transparent scoring system.

Rashaunda Dooley grew up around the firehouse.

Her mother is a Chicago firefighter and it became her dream to be one too.

"She would come home saying what she had to do," Dooley said. "And I'm like, "Wow, my mom's a hero. She's making a difference.'"

She and all other applicants had to pass the physical abilities test, or PAT. The tasks ranging from carrying hoses while climbing stairs, to an arm lift exercise and upper body endurance test.

Dooley, a former high school track athlete, says she trained hard and thought she performed well, but soon a letter arrived, telling her she'd failed.

"I kind of wanted more information, but the hardest thing was, oh my goodness, I have to tell my mom I didn't pass," she said.

In 2011 Dooley joined a class-action lawsuit, joining other female firefighter applicants who had also failed the test.

"We have class members who are firefighters with other jurisdictions. We have class members who are triathletes, marathon runners," said attorney Susan Malone.

The lawsuit alleged the PAT was discriminatory because the applicants were never given scores or benchmarks for success or failure.

"No candidates were told what the required passing score was or how to achieve it, which made their training for the test significantly harder," Malone said.

As part of the tentative settlement the city has agreed to now use another test, the candidates' physical abilities test, or C-PAT, which was developed by the International Association of Firefighters.

Simulated firefighting tasks are performed with specific scores given for each exercise.

Dooley and nearly 140 other women are now eligible to take the test and re-apply for the fire academy.

"I'm going to do everything I need to do, everything that they want me to do, because I'm looking forward to becoming a firefighter," Dooley said.

The Fire Department has attempted to notify all of the applicants by mail. They need to be at Fire Academy South by 9 a.m. Monday. The C-PAT test will be administered at a later date.

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