Ricci Decision Threatens Constitutional Values of Equal Justice for All

In a 5 to 4 decision in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the city of New Haven, Connecticut violated Title VII when it declined to make promotions in the fire department on the basis of a test that disproportionately screened out minority candidates.

The Equal Justice Society joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief urging the Court to uphold New Haven’s efforts to root out discrimination from its promotional process, consistent with civil rights laws and the Constitution. The Lawyers’ Committee brief was also joined by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League.

“We are shocked by the decision and we will continue our work to preserve the vital protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Like Justice Ginsburg, we anticipate that the decision ‘will not have staying power.'”

In this case, the city of New Haven, Connecticut declined to certify the results of a firefighter promotion test based on evidence that the test discriminated on the basis of race. The city also had evidence that more fair and effective tests were available. Rather than making promotions on the basis of the discriminatory test, the city declined to certify the results, and sought to explore less discriminatory alternatives, in keeping with its obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When the city declined to make promotions on the basis of the test results, firefighters who had scored highly on the test filed suit, alleging that the city discriminated on the basis of race.

“Today’s decision ignores the plain language of Title VII, congressional intent and established precedent,” said Sarah Crawford, senior counsel with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Employment Discrimination Project. “We still have far to go to fulfill Title VII’s promise of equal employment opportunity. This is a giant leap backward.”

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