Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Deep Pocket Files: Taxpayers responsible for porch collapse?

You may recall the unfortunate collapse of a Chicago porch at a party that killed thirteen and injured 57. Of course there are lawsuits against the building owners and the contractor who built a porch that couldn’t support 70 people. But the plaintiffs’ attorneys recognize that that insurance and the defendants’ underlying assets will run out quickly. Thus, they have sought to join the city of Chicago as a defendant for allegedly failing to enforce building codes. (Because, as anyone who has lived in Chicago knows, what that town needs is more city workers.)

John Ehrlich, the city’s chief assistant corporation counsel, told Cook County Judge Jeffrey Lawrence that if he didn’t drop the city from the lawsuit, it could lead to suits against other cities for everything from bad restaurant food to house fires.
“That makes the city of Chicago an insurer for every single bad incident that occurs on private property. And it makes every city — every municipality in the state — an insurer for every bad incident” that happens, Ehrlich said. ”If you allow that to happen, you will have [the] bankruptcy of every single municipality and local government in the state. That is simply untenable.”

(Nathaniel Hernandez, “Porch suit threatens Illinois cities: lawyer”, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 24).

Chicago firefighters exam

In 1995, Chicago paid $5 million for an African-American consultant to work with a blue-ribbon panel to devise a race-neutral exam for promoting firefighters. Unfortunately, in the end result, whites were twice as likely to score “well-qualified” as blacks. In 2002, when it ran out of candidates who scored 89, Chicago stopped requiring that promoted firefighters score that high, and a federal district court has decided as a result that the test was racially discriminatory for the previous seven years. Chicago taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as an additional $80 million in back pay and front pay. (Glenn Jeffers, “Judge rules city fire exam biased”, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 23; AP/Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 23; Fran Spielman, “Exam bias ruling may cost city $80 million in firefighter lawsuit”, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 24).

A question for readers: none of the press has mentioned it, but, in 2001, a labor arbitrator ruled that the city discriminates against whites when it promotes a lower-scoring minority over a white. (Fran Spielman, “City ordered to promote white firefighters”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 14, 2001). In 2002, a federal jury found that the 1986 test was fair, and that the city discriminated by promoting lower-scoring minorities over whites, awarding millions. (AP, May 18, 2002). These would appear to put the city in an impossible position. Or has something happened in the interim that obviates these earlier rulings? As an experiment, I’ve opened comments; please restrict your remarks to this latter question, and please remain civil and respectful.

Update: the 2002 decision’s reverse-discrimination finding was affirmed in Biondo v. Chicago (7th Cir. Aug. 27, 2004), though the damages award was vacated. (Schrank blog discussion).

The decisions are arguably reconcilable: the two exams are different; Biondo involved an explicit quota. On the other hand, page 5 of the Biondo slip opinion explicitly endorsed the methodology used by Chicago that the district court condemned this week.