RESPONDENT: John DiStefano et al.
LOCATION: Kmart Parking Lot
DOCKET NO.: 07-1428
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 557 US (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 09, 2009
ARGUED: Apr 22, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 29, 2009
Christopher J. Meade - argued the cause for the respondent
Edwin S. Kneedler - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae
Gregory S. Coleman - argued the cause for the petitioners
Facts of the case
White and Hispanic candidates for promotion in the New Haven, CT fire department sued various city officials in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut when the New Haven Civil Service Board (CSB) failed to certify two exams needed for the plaintiffs' promotion to Lieutenant and Captain. The CSB did not certify because the results of the test would have promoted a disproportionate number of white candidates in comparison to minority candidates. The plaintiffs argued that their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e, and the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause were violated. The federal district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.
On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. It reasoned that the CSB, by refusing to certify the results of the promotional exam, was trying to fulfill its obligations under the rules utilized by the plaintiffs in their argument and therefore was protected in its actions.
1) Can a municipality reject results from an otherwise valid civil service exam when the results unintentionally prevent the promotion of minority candidates?
2) Does 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e permit federal courts to relieve municipalities from having to comply with local laws that require strict compliance with race-blind merit selection procedures?
Media for Ricci v. DeStefanoAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 2009 in Ricci v. DeStefano
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 29, 2009 in Ricci v. DeStefano
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Kennedy has the opinion of the Court this morning in case 07-1428, Ricci versus DeStefano and the consolidated case.
Anthony M. Kennedy:
In 1964, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act.
Title VII of that Act had prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics or trace -- or traits and of course these included race, color, and natural origin.
Under that provision, it is unlawful for an employer to treat a particular person less favorably than others because of a protected trait.
And this type of intentional discrimination has come to be known as disparate-treatment.
In a leading case in this Court called Griggs versus Duke Power Company, it was established that Title VII also prohibits in some cases practices that are not intended to discriminate but in fact have a disproportionate adverse effect on minorities and this is known as disparate-impact.
In 1991, Congress added the provision to Title VII that prohibits disparate-impact treatment, in other words, it codified what the Supreme Court had held in Griggs.
So both the disparate-treatment and disparate-impact provisions are now in the statute as it applies today, and there are two issues in this case.
The first is a statutory question.
What is the rule when the disparate-treatment and disparate-impact provisions appear to be intention or in conflict?
The second issue is a constitutional question whether the Equal Protection Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment operates to forbid the employers' conduct here, and this case arose when the City of New Haven, Connecticut found it necessary to determine which of its firefighters should be promoted to the positions of lieutenant and captain.
In the New Haven Fire Department as in emergency-service organizations nationwide, firefighters prize their promotion to and within officer ranks.
And to make its promotion determination, the City administered tests and the tests were part oral and part written.
When the test result showed that the white candidates had outperformed minority candidates, a rancorous public debate ensued.
Some firefighters had the test result showed at the test themselves were discriminatory.
And they argued that to certify the results would make the City liable for violating the disparate-impact provision in Title VII.
They threatened the discrimination lawsuit if the City made promotions based on the test.
Other firefighters said the tests were neutral and fair.
Those firefighters threatened suit for violation of Title VII's disparate-treatment provision that the City relied on the statistical racial disparity and rejected the test results.
In the end, the City took the side of those who protested the test results and then threw out the examinations.
Seventeen white and Hispanic firefighters, who likely would have been promoted, based on their good test performance, sued the City and some of its officials.
They alleged that the City and its officials violated both the disparate-treatment provisions of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The firefighters with the plaintiffs below and because the District Court granted summary judgment against them, and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that ruling, they become the petitioners here.
We granted certiorari.
Because a decision for the petitioners based on the statute would provide their relief sought, we consider their statutory claim before addressing the constitutional issue.
Wholly evidence demonstrates that the City chose not to certify the examination results because of the statistical disparity based on race and so our bid analysis begins with this premise.
The City's expressed race-based decision making would violate the disparate-treatment provision of Title VII absent some valid defense.
So the issue is not whether the conduct was discriminatory but whether the City had a lawful justification for discriminating.
The respondents here, the City and those of its officials who were named in the suit argued that the City's decision not to certify the test results was permissible in order to avoid creating a disparate-impact and we consider therefore whether the purpose to avoid disparate-impact liability excuses what otherwise would be prohibited disparate-treatment discrimination.
Respondents are joined by the United States as amicus and asserting that an employer's good faith belief that his actions are necessary to comply with the disparate-impact provision is enough to justify race conscious conduct.