A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled in favor of white firefighters who alleged they were denied promotions based on their race.
The Supremes ruled that by refusing to certify the results of the promotional exam because no blacks had passed, the city of New Haven violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote:
No individual should face workplace discrimination based on race.
In a statement, Joseph B. Muhammad, president of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, said:
We are surprised and very disappointed with this decision. It is clear that the majority of the Court is caught up in a time warp. Especially disheartening is the Court’s failure to see the changing face of race issues and the need for diversity in this country, particularly in our safety forces as they continue to take not only a community but a more global role.
We believe that it opens the door wide open for cheap and substandard testing and virtually guarantees that persons discriminated against--whether White, Black, or Hispanic--will have to resort to courts to have their issues redressed. This will sadly make any resolution of discrimination and testing far more adversarial, combative, and expensive than it needs to be.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens, wrote:
Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow.
Ginsburg also questioned the fairness of the test:
In so holding, the Court pretends that “[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.”…That pretension, essential to the Court’s disposition, ignores substantial evidence of multiple flaws in the tests New Haven used. The Court similarly fails to acknowledge the better tests used in other cities, which have yielded less racially skewed outcomes.
Ginsburg’s concerns were echoed by Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:
The ruling does not eliminate the legal responsibility of employers to find non-discriminatory solutions in hiring, promoting, and compensating employees. However, employers will now face a convoluted minefield when attempting to protect workers from discrimination.
The Court’s decision is clearly contrary to Congress’ intent in passing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It leaves employers in a quandary, and gives them a disincentive to voluntarily ensure a fair workplace.
The case is Ricci v. DeStefano. Background info is available here.