Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 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

Yesterday, in a highly anticipated 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Ricci v. DeStefano that the City of New Haven engaged in unlawful intentional race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) when it discarded a firefighter promotional test because of the racial makeup of the successful test takers. The City claimed that the test had a disparate impact on minorities and that, if it certified the test results and proceeded with promotions, it would have been sued for discrimination by minority test takers. The Court held that the City had to show a strong basis in evidence that it would be liable in such a suit – something more than the statistical results of the test – in order to justify throwing out the test and discriminating against the successful test takers, most of whom were white. It further held that, upon its review of the factual record, the City could not meet this burden. Reversing the Second Circuit (which had affirmed the trial court decision), it found that summary judgment should be entered against the City. The factual background of the case, opinion of the Court and the implications of the case for employers are discussed below.