Lewis v. City of Chicago, 560 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2191 (2010)

Plaintiffs in this case (more than 6,000 African-Americans) had applied to serve in the Chicago Fire Department. They challenged as discriminatory the city’s decision to hire only applicants who had scored 89 or above on a written examination. The city stipulated that the 89-point cutoff had a “severe disparate impact against African Americans,” but argued that the cutoff score was justified by business necessity. Although plaintiffs won at the district court level, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment on the ground that plaintiffs’ suit was untimely because the earliest EEOC charge was filed more than 300 days after the only discriminatory act – sorting the scores into the “well-qualified,” “qualified” and “not-qualified” categories.

The Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit and held that it was sufficient that the City’s selection of firefighters occurred within the charging period – even though its adoption of the challenged practice may have occurred at an earlier time. The Court distinguished between disparate treatment claims, which require discriminatory intent, and disparate impact claims such as those present in this case. See also EEOC v. Peabody W. Coal, 2010 WL 2572001 (9th Cir. 2010) (EEOC’s claim for injunctive relief could proceed against coal company that favored Navajo workers over non-Navajo Indians); Carver v. Holder, 606 F.3d 690 (9th Cir. 2010) (employee who alleged age discrimination could not sue to increase the amount of damages obtained by the EEOC without relitigating the issue of liability).