In Ricci v. DeStefano, (No. 07-1428), a long awaited decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the City of New Haven violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it discarded the results of civil service examiinations in which African American and Latino firefighters seeking promotion to lieutenant and captain did not fare well. White firefighters had alleged that they had suffered race discrimination when the City discarded their favorable examination results.
The City of New Haven had argued that it discarded the results based upon its conclusion that the examinations had a significant adverse impact on minority candidates. The Supreme Court rejected this argument in ruling in favor of the white firefighters.
The majority 5-4 opinion held that the City’s decision to discard the examination results would have been legal if the City had a “strong-basis-in evidence” for believing that nonwhite firefighters could sue for discrimination based upon a disparate impact theory. Disparate impact suits generally challenge a facially neutral policy, which nevertheless results in an adverse impact upon a particularl race.
The Court’s decision incorporates a new “strong-basis-in evidence” standard, which employers are required to have before taking any action intended to avoid a disparate impact. This standard will make it more difficult for employers to engage in voluntary efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace.