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High court allows suit over Chicago hiring exam

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a group of African-Americans did not wait too long to sue Chicago over a hiring test they challenged as discriminatory, freeing them to collect a lower court judgment.

It is the second time in as many years that the high court has tackled discrimination in testing within the firefighting ranks. In a landmark case last year, the court, in a 5-4 decision, said New Haven, Conn., violated white firefighters' civil rights by throwing out an exam in which no African-Americans scored high enough to be promoted to lieutenant or captain.

In yesterday's opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court that the applicants' lawsuit over a city of Chicago test used to weed out potential firefighter trainee applicants was not too late.

"Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that job-seekers should not be denied justice based on a technicality," said John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., who argued the case. "This victory goes well beyond the immediate results in Chicago. It should ensure that no other fire department or employer uses a discriminatory test, and LDF will go the extra mile to make sure that they do not."

Anyone who scored 64 or below was deemed not qualified. But the city set a second cutoff score of 89 points.

Officials told applicants who scored below 89 but above 64 that although they passed the test, they were not likely to be hired because of the large number of people who scored 89 or above. The majority of those in the top-scoring group were white; only 11 percent were black.

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