NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The US Supreme Court ruled that 20 white firefighters calling themselves the “New Haven 20” were unfairly denied promotions because they are white.
The 5-4 high court ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano overturns a decision that Sonia Sotomayor affirmed as an appeals court judge, the Associated Press reported.
In the ruling, the court said the City of New Haven was wrong to throw away a fire department promotions exam because few minorities — no African-Americans and only two Hispanics — passed the exam.
The New Haven 20 does include at least one hispanic firefighter.
In its defense, the city said it feared lawsuits from minority groups.
This has been a half-decade legal battle, and this “reverse discrimination” ruling is likely to change hiring and promotion practices across the country as the court effectively removed legal standing from minority groups to file lawsuits if few minorities are hired or pass employment exams.
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court.
“There is no genuine dispute that the examinations were job-related and consistent with business necessity. The City’s assertions to the contrary are ‘blatantly contradicted by the record,'” Kennedy wrote.
“On the record before us, there is no genuine dispute that the (city) lacked a strong basis in evidence to believe it would face (legal) liability if it certified the examination results. In other words, there is no evidence — let alone the required strong basis in evidence — that the tests were flawed because they were not job-related or because other, equally valid and less discriminatory tests were available to the city,” Kennedy wrote. “Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions. The City’s discarding the test results was impermissible under Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act).”
Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts joined in the majority. Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter and Breyer dissented. (click here to download the full court ruling)