In a ruling that could alter employments standards and practices across the nation, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of New Haven Connecticut’s white firefighters, citing that they were unfairly discriminated against because of their race. The firemen claimed the discrimination denied them the chance to receive promotions. The decision reverses one made by Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonya Sotomayor. In his opinion to the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions.” Chief Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas shared his sentiment.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, noting that the firefighters “understandably attract this court’s sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them.” Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens concurred.
The decision is a striking blow to those who seek to use race and discrimination frivolously, and even though its intent was otherwise, it is bound to impact those who might have legitimate claims to the matter. Rooted in New Haven’s effort to fill vacant leadership positions within its fire department, the fight began when a test created by an outside authority was administered to the firemen. Fifty six firefighters passed the exams; 41 whites, 22 blacks and 18 Hispanics but only 17 whites and two Hispanics could expect promotions.
New Haven discarded the exam results due to no Blacks and only two Hispanic firefighters being eligible to receive promotions, an act that city officials admitted to authorizing out of fear of litigation due to the test making them being vulnerable to claims that the exam had a “disparate impact” on minorities, violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As of 2003, only one Black person has achieved the rank of captain New Haven’s fire department; there are 21 in all.