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Court Refuses to Revive Cleveland Lawsuit on Firefighters

March 25, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to revive a lawsuit that accused Cleveland of selecting its city firefighters in a way that illegally discriminates against women.

The justices, without comment, let stand rulings that threw out the sex- bias allegations.

Eight women who unsuccessfully sought jobs as Cleveland firefighters sued the city in 1983 on behalf of all women similarly denied employment. At that time, the city had never hired a female firefighter.

The suit alleged that the physical component of an entry-level examination for firefighters was designed to exclude women.

Of the 1,927 men who took the 1983 test, 1,069 were placed on a hiring eligibility list. Of the 285 women who took the same test, 29 received scores high enough to put them on the eligibility list. Of the 285, 122 had passed the test’s written portion.

The highest-ranking woman was No. 334 on the list, making it virtually impossible for any woman to be hired under the top-down selection system.

All the 35 firefighters hired in 1983 were men.

The test’s physical component consisted of three events: dragging hoses at a fire scene, dragging a 100-pound dummy, and lifting a 33-pound barbell overhead repeatedly for one minute.

The barbell lift proved the most difficult for many of the women who took the test.

The women’s suit alleged that the entry-level examination violated two federal civil rights laws - one enacted in 1871 to ban intentional bias and one passed in 1964 that bans employment practices with ″disparate impact″ on women and minorities.

About the same time as the women’s suit, the federal government separately sued Cleveland over its firefighter-hiring practices.

In both suits, city officials defended the selection system as being validly job-related.

In 1985, as part of a settlement in one aspect of the litigation, the city hired 10 women from the firefighter eligibility list.

U.S. District Judge Alvin I. Krenzler dismissed the allegations based on the 1871 federal law without letting them reach a jury trial.

The judge conducted a trial on the allegations based on the 1964 law - Title VII of the Civil Rights Act - and in 1987 ruled that the city had shown the challenged testing to be job-related and valid.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Krenzler’s ruling last June.

In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for the eight women said the lower courts held the city to too lenient a standard in showing that the test was job-related.

″This case presents an opportunity ... to address the question of how the evidence presented by a defendant to satisfy its burden of production is to be analyzed,″ the appeal said.

City officials urged the justices to reject the appeal. ″It is the job of firefighting that discriminates; not the test,″ they said.

The eight women who sued the city are Barbara Zamlen, Charlene Cuffari, Sharon Pirosko, Leana Adkins, Jennifer Garrucio, Diane Horne, Concetta Zingale and Denise Campbell.

The case is Zamlen vs. Cleveland, 90-1046.