In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on the controversial Ricci v.
DeStefano case. The case, which was brought by a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut claiming they were denied promotions when the city of New Haven threw out the promotion exam. Lower courts found in favor of New Haven in throwing out the results of the exam, and against the white firefighters.
However, the Supreme Court reversed the findings of lower courts. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, and was joined by Justices Thomas, Roberts,
Alito and Scalia. Kennedy stated unequivocally that ³the city rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white,² and that ³Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer¹s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions.²
The ruling will make it difficult for employers, mainly those that require tests or other examinations to determine eligibility, to throw out results if the exam shows a disparate impact on a minority. This includes many government entities that employ civil servants, and often use exams for promotion.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsberg minced no words in showing her disdain for this opinion, and standing behind the black and Hispanic firefighters. The city of New Haven has a high percentage of blacks and Hispanics, but the make up of the city’s fire department does not coincide with these proportions, and highlights problems associated with the disparate impact clause of Title VII.
This case also draws attention to Judge Sotamayor¹s ruling in the Appeals Court. She had found in favor of the city, which had thrown out the test results when they were notified of their potential liability. This case was closely watched to see if the Court would uphold Sotamayor¹s ruling.
The decision cuts a hole in Title VII. The issue for the employer under Title VII is not the fear of being sued but rather the disparate or discriminatory impact the employers’ decisions (including mandatory tests)
have on the employee.
Shame on the Supreme Court for a leap backwards!