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Supreme Court Reviews Familiar Firefighter Bias Issue

Supreme Court Reviews Familiar Firefighter Bias Issue

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Washington Post via YellowBrix

February 22, 2010

The judge also ruled that each time the city hired from the list, it constituted a “fresh act of discrimination.”

When the city appealed the decision, it argued that the African-American applicants had filed their claim too late. They were hurt when the hiring list was compiled and the jobseekers were told they would likely not be hired, the city argued, but it contended that they missed the 300-day deadline for filing a complaint.

The only question before the Supreme Court in Lewis v. City of Chicago is the timeliness issue, the same kind of decision that drove the Ledbetter ruling.

But the tensions that were apparent in Ricci have hardly been settled. New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci and others have received the promotions they were denied when the city threw out the test over fears it had a disparate impact on minority firefighters.

The battle to fully integrate the nation’s fire and police departments still rages.“Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion in Ricci..

Last month, a federal judge ruled New York City used for years a test that hurt black firefighter applicants. “It was a part of a pattern, practice and policy of intentional discrimination against black applicants that has deep historical antecedents and uniquely disabling effects,” wrote U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis. The city has said it will appeal.

Also in January, the Justice Department filed suit against New Jersey over the use of a written test required of all seeking promotion to police sergeant; the department said black and Hispanic candidates pass at significantly lower rates than whites. The department’s civil rights division said the practice violates Title VII because the state has not shown that such written tests or the way it uses them is job-related or necessary to make promotion decisions.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the majority on Ricci, wrote that the “war” between protecting minority groups from disparate impact and securing equal protection for all “will be waged sooner or later, and it behooves us to begin thinking about how — and on what terms — to make peace between them.”

That is unlikely to happen with the Chicago case. But perhaps with a sequel.