Suit: Chicago Fire Department tests discriminate against women

July 19, 2011

(AP/M. Spencer Green)
Fire department personnel talking in 2007.

A new federal lawsuit alleges the physical test required of Chicago firefighters discriminates against women.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago Tuesday alleges that the tests firefighter candidates are required to take are a major impediment to women. Before they're hired, firefighters must take a four-part physical endurence test, according to the civil complaint. It involves arm lifts, leg lifts, dragging a fire hose and carrying a pack up a high rise building, the complaint says.

The plaintiff in the case, Samantha Vasich, said she performed well when she took the test in 2010. But Vasich was told she failed the test, and wasn't given a reason. When Vasich asked about her score, the Chicago Fire Department would not give her any more information, according to the complaint.

Her lawyer, Marni Willenson, said the test is irrelevant, and is meant to weed out female candidates.

"If you wanted to design a test that just tested inherent physical difference between men and women, this is pretty much the test you would use," Willenson said.

Willenson said the city should set clear goals as to what's expected of firefighter candidates, and pointed to other models of testing that set out clear expectations.

A spokeswoman for the city of Chicago Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.