Federal appeals court reinstates African-American firefighter discrimination suit

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Monday reinstated [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit filed by an African American firefighter claiming the firefighter promotion exams used in the city of New Haven, Connecticut, are discriminatory. In 2003, the New Haven Civil Service Board (CSB) had refused to certify the results of the exam that made disproportionately more white applicants than minority applicants eligible for promotion. Applicants who qualified for promotions based on their test scores but were denied promotions filed a lawsuit against the city claiming disparate impact. The appeal court's Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs held that Briscoe was not precluded from suing the city because he is not bound by the Supreme Court ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano, which ordered the CSB to certify the results of the test. Jacobs concluded that the lower court's reasoning for dismissing Briscoe's claim was "inconsistent with well-settled principles of nonparty preclusion." Briscoe claims that the weighting of the written and oral sections of the test was arbitrary and unrelated to the job requirements. Briscoe is seeking to enjoin the city from using the current weight ratio, as well as eligibility for promotion.

The US Supreme Court [official website] in 2009 overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a lower court ruling dismissing racial discrimination challenges to the promotion criteria used by the New Haven fire department. The court ruled 5-4 in Ricci v. DeStefano [Cornell LII backgrounder] that a "strong basis in evidence" that an employer would be liable under a Title VII [text] disparate impact [EEOC backgrounder] analysis is necessary to justify a "race-based" action that would otherwise violate Title VII's disparate treatment standard. The court ruled that summary judgment on disparate treatment grounds in favor of firefighters who were not promoted despite high test scores was appropriate, finding that the prima facie disparate impact case demonstrated by the City did not meet the "strong basis in evidence" standard.

 

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