Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court held that the city of New Haven, Connecticut (the “City”) violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it threw out the test results of a 2003 firefighter examination. The City uses an objective examination to identify those firefighters that are best qualified to fill vacant lieutenant and captain positions. When the test results showed that white candidates had outperformed minority candidates, a public debate ensued. Both those for and against the City certifying the results threatened to bring suit. In the end, the City decided to throw-out the exam results which caused a group of white and Hispanic firefighters, who passed the exam but were denied a chance at promotion, to sue.
By failing to certify the exam results, the firefighters alleged that the City discriminated against them because of their race. The district and appellate courts held that the City did not discriminate against the firefighters. However, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts. In his opinion, Justice Kennedy stated that the fear of litigation alone cannot justify the City’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions.