High Court to Hear Case on Hiring Test Bias

By Staff Report

Jan. 12, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether a public entity was justified in refusing to certify the results of two fire department promotional exams on grounds that the tests may have had a disparate impact on African-Americans.

According to the 2006 district court decision in Frank Ricci v. John DeStefano, it appeared the results of a captain’s test given in 2003 by the New Haven, Connecticut, Fire Department meant no blacks and at most two Hispanics would be eligible for promotion. The results of a lieutenant’s test indicated that neither blacks nor Hispanics would be promoted.

After the New Haven Civil Service Board failed to certify the tests’ results, 17 white and one Hispanic candidates filed suit, alleging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other charges.

The district court granted New Haven’s motion for summary judgment, which the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in June 2008.

In its brief opinion, the appellate court said plaintiff Frank Ricci did not have a valid Title VII claim. “To the contrary, because the board, in refusing to validate the exams, was simply trying to fulfill its obligations under Title VII when confronted with test results that had a disproportionate racial impact, its actions were protected.”

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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