The New Haven firefighters racial discrimination Supreme Court ruling, Ricci v. DeStefano, made waves last year when the Supreme Court found that the city of New Haven was wrong to disqualify white firefighters’ test scores that determined promotions. New Haven disqualified the scores because none of the black firefighters who took the test scored high enough to receive a promotion and the city was worried that lawsuits could be filed alleging racial discrimination.
It turns out a lawsuit has been filed – but not against New Haven. The city of Chicago is being sued because, unlike New Haven, it did use test scores in which an overwhelming amount of blacks did not score high enough to be seriously considered for a job in the Chicago Fire Department. The lawsuit is being called the “flip side of Ricci,” and illustrates that New Haven may have been sued regardless of what decision they made with their test scores. It is now before the Supreme Court.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
It began in 1995 when 26,000 applicants jammed into Chicago’s United Center sports arena to take an entry-level, paper-and-pencil test for jobs in the Fire Department. Only those who scored 89 or above were considered “well qualified” for the jobs, the city said in January 1996. Assuming they passed a physical and medical test, these top scorers stood a good chance of being hired over the next eight years.
About 76% of those in the “well qualified” group were white — 11.5% were black even though there were only slightly more whites than blacks taking the test. Mayor Richard M. Daley called the results “disappointing.” Those who scored between 65 and 88 were classified as “qualified” but were told they were unlikely to be hired.
In 1997 a group of “qualified” blacks sued, alleging racial discrimination. They relied on a part of the Civil Rights Act that says job standards, including tests, are illegal if they unfairly screen out applicants because of their race or gender.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Ricci case makes this an uphill battle for the plaintiffs, but it’s possible for the court to find that the test was racially biased or that the decision to use eighty-nine percent and higher to determine “well qualified” applicants unfairly disqualified blacks.
The plaintiffs may end up losing the case on a technicality. The law requires them to file within 300 days for job discrimination complaints and their lawsuit was filed over a year after the results became public.