As part of a settlement agreement announced in Chicago federal court, the city has agreed to pay $3.1 million in the class action brought by the Justice Department on behalf of 47 onetime police officer applicants whose applications were allegedly rejected because of the department’s policy.
The Justice Department filed a complaint against the city Friday in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, alleging the Police Department violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against foreign-born police officer candidates. Just hours later, the Justice Department and the city jointly filed a notice in court that a proposed settlement had been reached.
The pending settlement, which was to be perused by the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday, would then take effect if the City Council approves the arrangement at its regular meeting Wednesday.
According to the Justice Department, it was the Police Department’s practice in 2006 to administer written examinations to applicants wishing to be police officers. Those who passed were placed on an eligibility list in random order. Applicants were then drawn from this list, and as part of further processing, were required to fill out a personal history questionnaire, which requested such information as place of birth and all places of residence since age 13.
Police rejected any applicant who had not lived continuously in the U.S. for at least 10 years prior to the submission of the questionnaire. The only exception were applicants who lived outside the country while serving in the U.S. military.
One candidate so disqualified was Masood Khan, who was born in India and came to the U.S. in 2003. He successfully completed the written examination in June 2006, but was allegedly told in 2008 he would not be hired, because he had not lived in the country 10 years.
Another candidate was Glenford Flowers, born in Belize and a U.S. resident since 1999, who passed the written examination in September 2006, but was allegedly denied a job, because of his limited residency.
Khan and Flowers complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the Police Department discriminated against them on the basis of their national origin. The commission decided Khan, Flowers and about 45 other job candidates were indeed victims of discrimination, according to the lawsuit. However, the suit said the commission’s effort to work with police to remedy the problem did not succeed, prompting the commission to refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the Justice Department’s lawsuit, the department noted 92 percent of applicants turned down because of the 10-year requirement had been born in foreign countries. On the other hand, a random sample of those who met the 10-year condition, showed 8 percent were born abroad.
“The percentage of foreign-born candidates among those who were disqualified by the ten-year residency requirement is statistically significantly greater than would be expected based on the makeup of the random sample of candidates who satisfied the ten-year residency requirement,” a Justice Department attorney contended.
The Justice Department added that the Police Department did not prove how the residency prerequisite was relevant to the job of police officer. The Chicago Tribune reported police said the 10-year residency requirement was in place to facilitate background checks.
In 2011, police shortened the 10-year requirement to five years for applicants who passed the written examination in 2010 or later. However, the Justice Department said in the lawsuit that any length-of-residency requirement should be abolished as a pass/fail screening device.
Justice Department attorneys wanted the city to provide back pay, lost benefits and compensatory damages, as well as job offers, with retroactive seniority, to those denied a slot with the police force, because of the residency requirement. In addition, the attorneys wanted police to correct any other effects of past discrimination.
The Chicago firm of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister is defending the city.