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Chicago to pay $2M to settle discrimination suit

Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 11:51 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 11:51 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – The city of Chicago is set to pay nearly $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by women who claimed they were denied jobs as firefighters because the department’s physical fitness test discriminated against female applicants.

The 138 women sued after passing a written exam but failing the physical test. The lawsuit claimed the exam tested pure physical strength, not whether a candidate was capable of doing the job.

The city has since begun using a different fitness exam developed by the International Association of Firefighters.

Marni Willenson, an attorney for the women, says the new test more closely simulates firefighting.

“Lots and lots of those women are not only capable of doing the job. They’ll be great at it,” Willenson told a local newspaper.

The City Council’s Finance Committee approved a $1.98 million settlement on Friday. The money will be split among 50 women who are now older than the department’s age limit of 38. Some of the other women are now going through the process of being hired.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Samantha Vasich, is one of the women planning to retake the test.

She said she’s been fit her entire life and that it was “heartbreaking” to come close but not pass the physical exam. She said she’s going after the job again in part to teach her daughter not to give up.

“I know it’s a male-dominated work force. I know that a lot of men look down on women who want to enter the firehouses,” Vasich said. “But I know I’m physically capable of doing it.

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