Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 2658 (2009)

One hundred eighteen firefighters took written examinations administered by the city of New Haven, Connecticut in order to qualify for promotion to the rank of lieutenant or captain. When the examination results showed that white candidates had outperformed minority candidates, the mayor and other local politicians opened a public debate that “turned rancorous.” Some firefighters argued the tests should be discarded because the results proved the tests were discriminatory; others argued the exams were neutral and fair. The City sided with those who protested the results and threw out the examinations. Several white and Hispanic firefighters challenged that decision under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, asserting they had been discriminated against on the basis of their race. In reversing the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Supreme Court held that the City had violated Title VII: “We conclude that race-based action like the City’s in this case is impermissible under Title VII unless the employer can demonstrate a strong basis in evidence that, had it not taken the action, it would have been liable under the disparate-impact statute.” Cf. AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1962 (2009) (employer did not violate Pregnancy Discrimination Act by paying pension benefits calculated in part under an accrual rule that gave less retirement credit for pregnancy than for medical leave generally).