Reverse Discrimination – Ricci v. DeStefano, 129 S.Ct. 2658 (2009)

This case is about reverse discrimination . Reverse discrimination occurs when a person who belongs to a dominant or majority group is treated in an unfavorable manner. Under affirmative action many employers set aside a certain percentage of job vacancies for blacks, women and other groups. Such practices are challenged by other job candidates, usually white males, claiming that they are discriminated against on the basis of their race or sex in violation of Title VII of the of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII).

Section 703(j) of the Title VII states: “Nothing in this title shall be interpreted to require any employer… to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the race, color, religion, sex, or natural origin of such individual or group.”

Several white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter filed a suit against the City of New Haven (the City) and the City officials for violation of Title VII. Based on the results of the promotional tests, the City was concerned that the tests results and the subsequent promotions would discriminate against minority candidates. Therefore, in an effort to avoid a disparate impact on minority firefighters, the City refused to certify the results.

The candidates took the lieutenant and captain exams. On the lieutenant exam the pass rate for white firefighters was 58.1%, for black firefighters – 31.6%, for Hispanic firefighters – 20%. On the captain exam the pass rate was 64% for whiter firefighters, and 37.5% for both black and Hispanic firefighters.

In its decision in favor of white and Hispanic firefighters the Supreme Court stated that the pass rates for minority firefighters were about one-half of the pass rates for the white candidates. It was far below the 80% standard established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in order to implement the disparate impact provision of Title VII.

Therefore the Court ruled that the City’s refusal to certify the test results violated Title VII’s disparate treatment prohibition. The City would be liable for disparate impact discrimination in the workplace only if the promotional tests were not job related and consistent with business necessity, or if there were an equally valid, less-discriminatory alternative that the City refused to adopt. The Court concluded that there was no evidence in support of the argument that the tests were deficient in either of these respects. Accordingly, the City was not entitled to disregard the tests based solely on the racial disparity in the results.