New Haven Faces a Reverse-Reverse Discrimination Suit

Last month, twenty firefighters, all white except for one Hispanic, won more than $2 million in settlements from the city of New Haven, Connecticut for the (reverse) discriminatory practices of the fire department. The 2009 Supreme Court decision Ricci v. DeStefano found that New Haven did not have a substantial reason to throw out the results of a 2003 firefighter promotion test merely because white test-takers outperformed minorities.

Since the decision in Ricci, the city has given out the promotions mandated by the 2003 test as well as millions in settlement.

However, the city once again faces a discrimination suit, this time brought by Michael Briscoe, an African American firefighter in New Haven.  He is suing the city for validating the results of the very same 2003 promotion test last month, thereby denying him a promotion. Mr. Briscoe claims that if the exam had been 30 percent written and 70 percent oral, rather than the 60-40 split which favored the white firefighters, then he would have achieved the necessary test results.

Mr. Briscoe is suing the city of New Haven under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, claiming disparate impact. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reinstated Briscoe’s case the other dat.  This decision reverses a lower court’s decision which interpreted the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision as to shield the city from ensuing discrimination suits related to the test’s validity.  Instead, the appeals court concluded that the Supreme Court’s holding coupled with a sigle sentence of dicta could be interpreted to preclude Briscoe’s suit.

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