About 138 women who were denied jobs with the Chicago Fire Department following a test seven years ago will have a chance to reapply to be a firefighter on Monday after reaching an agreement with the city in a federal class-action lawsuit.
The women were part of a group of 187 who had passed the written test in 2006 but were later denied jobs because they failed the department’s physical abilities test. Close to 50 of the original applicants no longer meet the eligibility requirements.
In 2011, Samantha Vasich, one of the rejected female candidates, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago, alleging the test was unfair to women because it placed too much emphasis on strength rather than firefighting skills.
Last month, the city agreed to use the Candidate Physical Ability Test, a more accurate test developed by the International Association of Firefighters, to assess the rejected women candidates for the next two firefighter classes, said Marni Willenson, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
"It's a vast improvement over what was there," Willenson said.
Under the new agreement, women who were denied jobs and who pass the new test will be given first priority.
Those who are not granted jobs, no longer want to apply or are ineligible will share about $2 million in damages, said Willenson.
A representative for the Chicago Fire Department could not be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.
Chicago Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said he did not have details about the upcoming tests, but he confirmed the general terms of the agreement.
The settlement still needs to go before the City Council for approval, he said.
Willenson said: “We’re pleased. We feel like the city is doing the right thing.”
The female candidates were sent letters late last month telling them they could reapply. Willenson said she has been in contact with about 80 women, but said there are likely others who don’t know about the opportunity.
"Some people didn’t even know there was a lawsuit filed,” she said.
Their agreement also sets aside funding for a training program for the women, which starts next week, according to Willenson.
Women who are hired will either join the fall 2013 class or another class in the early part of 2014.
The department will begin processing the applicants Monday morning at the Chicago Fire Department Academy South in the South Loop.
Count Vasich as one candidate who plans to reapply. The 29-year-old failed the physical ability test in 2010, even though she had hired a personal trainer who worked her “harder than the actual test,” she said.
Now, she said, she feels grateful for a second chance.
"I’m definitely looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s a great job, it’s a great opportunity.”