Supreme Court Ruling in New Haven Reverse Discrimination Case May Erode Civil Rights Act
Interview with Victor Bolden, corporation counsel for the city of New Haven, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
On June 29, the Supreme Court announced a 5 to 4 decision in the Ricci v. DeStefano case, in which 20 New Haven, Conn., firefighters -- 19 white and one Latino -- sued the city, claiming racial discrimination. The city had declined to certify promotion tests given in 2003 in which no African American and only two Latino firefighters scored high enough to be promoted. The suit was filed in 2004, and since the city had thrown out the tests, no one has been promoted for the past seven years. Although the percentages of whites, blacks and Hispanics in the department at that time did not differ too much from the racial makeup of the city as a whole, whites were somewhat over-represented, and much more so in leadership positions. Eighteen of the department's 21 captains were white.
Decisions in the district and appellate courts supported the city's position that the test results were discriminatory on their face, and certifying them would be a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But the Supreme Court reversed those rulings, stating the city's fear of a lawsuit by black firefighters was not a good enough reason to deny promotions to the firefighters who scored well. Now the case goes back to the district court, where most observers expect the judge to order the city's civil service commission to certify the 2003 exam results.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Victor Bolden, the City of New Haven's corporation counsel, whose job it was to defend the city's handling of the exam results. Bolden explains how it came to be that the city had to give so much weight to a written exam, and what impact this Supreme Court decision could have on future discrimination cases.
For more information and analysis on the case, visit www.scotusblog.com
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