On June 29, 2009, the last day of the United States Supreme Court’s 2008–09 term, the Court rendered the much anticipated decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, 129 S. Ct. 2658, 174 L. Ed. 2d 490 (2009). Ricci was quickly dubbed the “white firefighter’s case” by many, however, the case involved much more than the firefighters’ asserted right to a promotion.
Ricci involved a promotional examination administered by New Haven, Connecticut to members of the New Haven Fire Department to identify those applicants who merited promotions. Knowing that promotional examinations have historically had a disparate-impact on minorities, the City hired a professional testing firm, Industrial/Organizational Solutions Inc. (“IOS”) to develop a racially-neutral exam. When the results of the examination were released the City realized that its efforts to ensure impartiality were not realized, as the results demonstrated stark racial disparities. Specifically, no African-American candidate did well enough on the exam to qualify for a promotion and only two Hispanic candidates were eligible for a promotion based on their score. After careful consideration, including numerous hearings by the New Haven Civil Service Board, the City decided not to certify the results of the examination for fear that they would be sued by minority test takers because of the disparate impact of the examinations and the existence of less discriminatory alternatives to identify promotion candidates. The City immediately went back to the drawing board to develop a testing mechanism that would not produce such adverse results. Read more