Every company needs to be concerned about Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and potential discrimination issues within their organization. Fair hiring practices are a must, from both ethical and legal perspectives. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano shed some light on discriminatory practices in the workforce. This high profile case involved firefighters employed by the city of New Haven, Connecticut. In a 5-4 decision, the Court reversed the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision made in favor of New Haven.

In the end, the city settled the lawsuit by paying $2 million to the firefighter plaintiffs; each promotable-individual received 3 years of “service time” towards their pension; and paid their attorney, Karen Lee Torre, $3 million in fees and costs. Here’s a little back-story.

In 2003, New Haven administered tests to evaluate which firefighters were most qualified for promotion to vacant lieutenant and captain positions. Minority candidates scored disproportionately lower on the tests, therefore New Haven feared a lawsuit by the minority firefighters. As a result, they discarded the tests as a factor in the promotion process.

White firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter who tested with high scores sued the city after they were denied promotions, citing that they were victims of reverse discrimination.

In 2006, a federal district court held that New haven didn’t discriminate against the white firefighters, and a three-judge Second Circuit panel affirmed the district court. Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court justice nominee, was one of the three Second Circuit judges who affirmed the city of New Haven’s decision to throw out the tests.

The Supreme Court held that New haven violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by throwing out the tests. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the opinion, stated, “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.”

It is believed that this case could have huge implications on discrimination and diversity issues in employment law, moving forward, Some assert that the decision could possibly limit employers’ liability in situations where minorities cannot prove they were victims of discrimination.

HR professionals should keep a watchful eye on future litigation to keep updated on the current discriminatory front. Further, in light of this decision companies will definitely want to ensure they aren’t placing special emphasis on any particular group of persons for the sake of protecting themselves against lawsuits. Fair labor and hiring practices for all candidates and employees is paramount in this day and age of declaring discrimination, whether perceived or justified.

For more information on the EEOC, here’s a link to their offical government website.  EEOC


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