(press release: cdklawyers)
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that white firefighters were unfairly denied promotions based on their race when their employer discarded the results of a firefighter promotion test because white test-takers fared disproportionately better than other test-takers. Ricci v. DeStefano, __ U.S __ (U.S. June 29, 2009), available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-1428.pdf.
New Haven, Connecticut used a test to identify firefighters best qualified for promotion, but white test-takers scored significantly higher than other test-takers. The city feared that minority firefighters would allege disparate-impact discrimination, and it disregarded the test results. White firefighters who scored well on the test and who were denied promotions sued, alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New Haven obtained summary judgment, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
The Court reversed, finding that no strong basis existed for New Haven’s belief that if it certified the test results, minority firefighters would prevail on disparate-impact claims. The Court noted that, while minority firefighters could present prima facia cases of disparate-impact discrimination, several viable defenses were available to New Haven. The Court concluded that an employer may not take a race-based action in violation of Title VII unless the employer can demonstrate that it had a strong basis to believe that doing so was necessary to avoid liability for disparate-impact claims.
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