In late 2003 the New Haven Fire Department administered promotional exams for captain and lieutenant to a group of 118 firefighters. The exam was designed by an outside firm to be free of racial bias to avoid disparate impact with 60 percent written and 40 percent oral. However when the test was administered the white firefighters scored much higher than blacks or Hispanics. “Nine of the twenty-seven blacks (33 percent) and six of the twenty-three Hispanics (26 percent) who took the tests passed, compared to forty-one of sixty-eight whites (60 percent)” (DesJardins 243). With these results and the number of vacancies available, no blacks and only 1 Hispanic would have been eligible for promotion. The City of New Haven reacted to this and invalidated the results. In turn the firefighters who were not promoted filed a suit against the city claiming reverse discrimination. In June of 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the city had “discriminated against a group of firefighters when it ignored the results of a promotion exam that disproportionately identified white exam takers as most qualified” (DesJardins 242). The majority ruled that the city nullified the test results simply because all of the higher scores were those of whites. The Opinion
I do believe that the Supreme Court was just in their decision. Throwing out the results of the test that the firefighters were given ample time to prepare for was not the right thing to do. I believe that whoever scored the highest should be allowed to be promoted. This is not a race issue. However I see the reason the City chose to do so. Organizations need to be careful how they deal with diversity challenges and avoid reverse discrimination. Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, “Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form” (DesJardins 243). I believe that she means that the decision is a knock at the Civil Rights Act. She also mentions that pencil and paper exams is a dubious practice, however all firefighters were given equal opportunity to study for the exam and knew ahead of time what was expected of them. Each of the firefighters had the same chance of success regardless of race.
The City of New Haven found itself in another predicament when Michael Briscoe, a black firefighter, has come forward with the type of lawsuit the city originally feared (Seidman). This firefighter claims that the tests were discriminatory and that it varied from the industry standard. He said that if the city would have weighed the scores as did the rest of the industry that he would have been eligible for promotion. However the high court had previously stated that New Haven could not be held liable for discriminating against black candidates after they were required to use the test results to not discriminate against whites. “The law allows employers to discriminate among employees as long as the grounds for discrimination are job-related, fair, and objective” (DesJardins 242). The city had the right to administer the test to all firefighters and promote those who scored the highest regardless of race. Those who scored the highest were more qualified.
DesJardins, Joseph. (2011) An Introduction to Business Ethics. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Seidman, A. (2012, June 11). Supreme Court Won’t Revisit New Haven Firefighter Case – Metropolis – WSJ. WSJ Blogs – WSJ. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://blogs.wsj.com/metropolis/2012/06/11/supreme-court-wont-revisit-new-haven-firefighter-case/