Firefighters have Their Day in Court

Today,the Supreme Court ruled that white and Hispanic firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, were unfairly denied promotions because of their race. This opinion, RICCI ET AL. v. DESTEFANO ET AL. reversed a decision that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

In 2008, Sotomayor was part of a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments about this case. The panel agreed and upheld the District Court of Connecticut’s decision (554 F. Supp. 2d 142), which ruled against the plaintiffs.

The justices in a 5-4 split, ruled that the city of New Haven violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, when the city discarded promotion test results on which minorities had scored poorly. City officials claimed that minority applicants otherwise would have sued them if only white applicants had been promoted.

Justice Kennedy wrote, “The city rejected the test results because too many whites and not enough minorities would be promoted. Without some other justification, this express, race-based decision-making violates Title VII’s command that employers cannot take adverse employment actions because of an individual’s race.”


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