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Legal Briefing

Chicago Fire Department Paramedic Test Unfair

The tests must actually measure job qualifications.

Five women sued the city of Chicago after being passed over for paramedic jobs because they failed a required physical fitness test. The women claimed the test was designed to weed out women applicants and unfairly impacted women in violation of Title VII. Approximately 47 percent of women who took the test with the plaintiffs in 2004 passed, compared with more than 95 percent of men. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that the city could not prove the test was necessary to assess job performance for paramedics because it was based on a set of skill samples that don’t reflect what the paramedics actually do. The court recognized that “in itself, there is nothing unfair about women characteristically obtaining lower physical skills scores than men. … But the law clearly requires that this difference in score must correlate with a difference in job performance.” Without that correlation, the test “risks cementing unfairness into Chicago’s job-application process.” Ernst v. City of Chicago, Case Nos. 14-3783 and 15-2030 (7th Cir. Sept. 19, 2016).

Impact: While employers are not prohibited from administering physical tests for its job applicants, the test must actually measure job qualifications.

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. Comment below, or email editors@workforce.com.

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