Supreme Court Overturns Firefighter “Reverse Discrimination” Suit by 5-4 Split

This was a case originally ruled on by Supreme Court candiate Sonia Sotomayor where she sided with the lower court, upholding the city’s right to throw out the written firefighting tests when too few minorities passed them.

More after the jump.

From CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court sided Monday with white firefighters in their workplace discrimination lawsuit, a divisive case over the role race should place in job advancement.

In the split 5-4 vote, a majority of the justices ruled that the city of New Haven, Connecticut, improperly threw out the results of promotional exams that officials said left too few minorities qualified. A group of 20 mostly white firefighters sued, claiming “reverse discrimination.”

High court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor heard the case on her federal appeals court last year and sided with the city.

The Supreme Court was being asked to decide whether there was a continued need for special treatment for minorities, or whether enough progress has been
made to make existing laws obsolete, especially in a political atmosphere where
an African-American occupies the White House.

“Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the conservative majority.

33 thoughts on “Supreme Court Overturns Firefighter “Reverse Discrimination” Suit by 5-4 Split

  1. from what i read, a diversity company was hired to make the test as race neutral as possible.

  2. I’m curious about the test itself. Is it similar or identical to tests issued to firefighters in other cities? If yes, how many black firefighters passed the test and received promotions? If this same test was issued in other cities and no black firefighters passed, then that would be interesting.

  3. I don’t understand why news organizations portray the plaintiffs as a group of white firefighters when there were Hispanic plaintiffs as well. Are Hispanics not considered minorities anymore?

  4. Bone up and study, black people. We can do! The white person who sued was a dyslexic who studied for hours and passed his test. We got the power! Let’s use it!

  5. Obviouly folk don’t know the case:The tet was flawed. One of the flags was the huge racial disparity in the results. It went to a committee to look at the test, the lone black guy on the committee recused himself (that’ was BS, but whatever) and the committee making the decision was all white.What they found was that the group hired to create the test didn’t use any standard methodology in the process and that actually the test had many flaws such as:1. The written and the verbal part weren’t weight equally which is standard with Firefighter exam. The written exam held more weight and if this hadn’t been the case some black firefighter would have passed and some white ones would not.2. Firefighter exams round up – so if you get a 74.6 then it would be a 75. This one didn’t and there was no reaon not to.3. Some of the questions on the test didn’t pertain to the New Haven fire department4. Some of the question on the test had more than one right answer. So depending on who was doing the scoring you could get those questions right or wrong.And there were other issues as well.The original decision was that you couldn’t use a flawed test to determine who gets promoted. It wasn’t about DENYING anyone a spot or GIVING someone a position they didn’t earn.The way the media has characterized this case has been bogus. It was never about "reverse discrimination" (such a bogus term) but about a flawed exam. Hence the 5-4 ruling.

  6. Thanks JJ for addressing the test. I’ve been witholding forming an opinion of the case because I never was able to learn anything about WHY the test was flawed.

  7. does any of what you stated make the test inherently biased against minority fire fighters?

  8. @swivIt’s not about being inherently biased to minority firefighters. The initial decision by the committee you see race wasn’t what made their decision. Race was one of the flags on why the needed to take a better look at the exam.When they looked at the exam they saw it had flawed methodology.No one benefits from using a flawed tet to determine promotions. Especially if some of those who pased wouldn’t have done so had the test not been flawed as well as those who would have passed and didn’t becasue of the flawed exam.SO in other words you get some unqualified candidates getting a promotion and some qualified ones not getting a promotion.

  9. @ScottIt was ages ago when I read about the test…TIm Wise over at Red Room had a break down (with citations) of the original case and there are other sources as well…Google should bring it all up.

  10. no test is perfect. just because some things don’t all the way jive doesn’t make the test completely and inherently flawed and invalid in testing what needs to be tested. quite possibly they "found" this flaw because they didn’t get the results they wanted. which quite possibly means that the theory behind this flaw is flawed. what happens if and when another test is administered, and no blacks or latinos pass? do you suggest continuing to throw out exam results in order to get the results you want? if so, why even have an exam?

  11. i just read that the tests were thrown out to avoid a lawsuit from a group of black and latino fire fighters. if that’s true, what a crappy reason.

  12. JJ, of the reasons you gave for the test being flawed, only Number 4 truly suggested a bias. If there was someone arbitrarily deciding which answer was right and wrong, well, that’s just plain flawed. On Number 1, if both white and black were judged on the same basis, regardless of what is done in other districts, this portion of the test is not fundamentally flawed. Your presumption is that since black people can’t read and write well, the test is discriminatory since it doesn’t weigh heavily on the verbal skills, where blacks tend to do better. White people had to answer those same questions and they scored higher, so how is it unfair from a technical standpoint? Look, I’m the biggest advocate of affirmative action there is, but white people are closing the door to these programs. I think black people will have to become more competitve on tests and beat them at their own game. White people are NOT smarter than us. They have many more advantages (read "Outliers") and this makes it harder for black people to perform at their level on standardized tests. But getting better on these tests is what we must do. We can do it, people! Don’t cry and beg. Teach your kids. Take those tutorials. Study, study, study!

  13. But the only reason whites scored higher because the test was flawed. For ex. many of the answers did not pertain to the New Haven fire dept and some questions had more than one answer and could be up to personal interpretation. whites didn’t pass b/c they were smarter but b/c the test was compromised so unqualified candidates (mostly white) would have an advantage…… that is why i’m so pissed at how the media has puposedly distorted the real facts about the case by throwing out terms like reverse descrimination, they are implying that minorities were asking for lower standards so they can pass

  14. D-empress, when you say the questions didn’t pertain to the New Haven Fire Department, that doesn’t necessarily mean that questions were flawed. If a question asked what are combustible materials, for example, that’s not biased, and everyone has equal shot at the answer. If the question pertained to hockey or NASCAR, for example, you can say it was biased. So far, no one has given any examples of inherently flawed questions. If a question had multiple correct answers and the white applicant was given credit and the black applicant was not, then it’s obviously flawed. If what you and JJ say on this part is true, it’s a pity the Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling on another premise. The divided vote shows that jurists were conflicted in their decision. In closing, only Number 1 and Number of 4 of JJ’s argument is valid if the allegations are true.

  15. You can’t study for a flawed test.Also, it does matter how the tests are weighted. The reason why there is a verbal and written section is that BOTH skills are needed to make a good Captain or Lieutenant or what have you. That’s why they are weighed equally.SO if you’re weighing one side heavier than the other then you’re not getting the BEST candidate for the job, but the one who scored the highest on the written portion.This isn’t about race…it’s about a test that was flawed. They didn’t say anyone was to be given a job…they said the test wouldn’t yield the best results. How i it "fair" for an unqualified person to get a promotion on a test that didn’t follow proper methodology?

  16. @dukedraven I like how you reach for straws.The question that didn’t pertain to the New Haven fire department dealt with FIRE FIGHTING PROCEDURE for the area…meaning they related what their jobs were about…this wasn’t some gen ed question…it dealt specifically with how things are run in the New Haven fire department…

  17. @dukedraven Your presumption is that since black people can’t read and write well, the test is discriminatory since it doesn’t weigh heavily on the verbal skills, where blacks tend to do better.The only one presuming here is you. I never said, "black people can’t read and write well, the test is discriminatory," you’re the one seemign to make a lot of assumptions.What you don’t realize i that Fire Departments weight both sides of the exam equally because they’ve learned that just because someone scores really high on the written test doesn’t mean they make a good Lieutenant or Captain.That the "verbal" section is equally important in making this once again…you get folk who may not be qualified for the job getting the job.I don’t get what’s so hard to understand about that.

  18. but those tests were a constant throughout for all candidates. so thus, regardless if it’s flawed, there’s no advantage anyone has over another because the "flaw" is common to all test takers. they’re being measured against the SAME stick. and was there really a flaw in the test or was the city just scared that they were going to get sued? because that’s the REAL reason that the tests were thrown out. not because of some flaw. which was found AFTER the results came back. sounds like a fishy flaw to me.

  19. professors at the college level decide to weigh certain portions of exams differently ALL the time. this argument of a flawed exam reeks of sour grapes and sore loserness. that’s why the SCOTUS voted the way it did.

  20. JJ, you can argue the test was flawed until the cows come home. The test may have been screwed up, but the white applicants took the same test under the same conditions and got higher scores. If the question pertained to "fire procedures out the area," well, whoopeedoo, what does that have to do with the price of crack in Central Park? The white applicants answered the same question. JJ, You should stick to Number 1 and Number 4, that’s your strongest argument. Otherwise your case doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

  21. I agree with the last comment with how college exams are. They are totally subjective point blank. But I think the committee had a right to throw out their own test. Also I hate how the lone "black" person on the committee didn’t participate in the decision. Believe me if the committee had an agenda they were going to do it with or without the token "black" input. That guy/gal is obviously not concerned with the issues that he/she was put on the committee to evaluate. His removal from the decision shows how much this is a race thing. He/she was put on the committee, whether based on diversity standpoint or other reasons. The opinion was showed as valued and he/she just threw it away. I think they should be removed from the committee.Only in Connecticut.

  22. kaikou:My understanding is that the black committee person abstained from voting because they had a relative who had taken the test. I laud the person for their honesty in avoiding an obvious conflict of interest.

  23. Even after reading JJ’s post, I don’t see the bias. One point cited was putting too much weight on the written part – the white, black and Latino firefighters all probably went to the same deficient public schools that did a poor job of teaching them how to write. I am not going out on a limb by saying some of the Latinos likely spoke English as a second language, yet still performed well on the test. If someone who learned English as a second language outperforms you on written testing in English – you need to step right on over to the mirror.Perhaps there is an issue with grading? If the tests were not anonymous – a grader with a bias could give the black applicants lower scores. Everyone knows that does, and will continue to happen.I have a real problem with people rushing to say a test is biased. I went to horrible public schools in the south and at one school had 2 white classmates in the whole school. Those 2 white kids did just as bad as everyone else on those Cali Achievement Tests. A test can be socially biased by having questions that feature things a poor kid wouldn’t know about – but the test cannot magically distinguish between the ghetto kid that is black, white, brown, red or yellow.

  24. The meme out there is that no blacks passed. You do know like only 15-20 blacks took the test and half of them passed. About 5 times more whites took it and about half of them passed. (I’ve heard there were other numbers) I read that 11 Latinos look the test and half of them passed. There were way more whites in the pool. Many whites failed the test as well. Regardless, they should have never thrown out the test. The dilemma is that there are more whites in this country than black or Latino. So if that’s all a human resources person sees, they will just hire or promote the white person because the human resource person will most likely be white. All this other conversation about the test is irrelevant to the real issue at hand. Period.

  25. I don’t see anyone mentioning that one of the justices said that the test itself didn’t matter much – whatever the test, as long as it was relevant to the job, blacks would have scored lower, on average, than whites. This replicates the results from objective educational tests such as the SATs, ACTs, GREs, and so on. Blacks score, on average, lower than whites. Wherever one sets the dividing line for "pass," a lower proportion of blacks will pass the test than whites. All the discussion about bias in the test is a waste of time that could be spent studying instead of wallowing in victimhood.

  26. It would be interesting to know how the black firefighters/those that didn’t pass the tes prepared for the test versus the people who passed the test. I say this because if one relied on their experience, skill/knowledge and studied from the perspective of "real world" experiences, versus one who obtained materials on how to pass this particular test, it could explain the outcome. Discrepencies between "real world" answers and test answers have been widespread across many different types of tests (certifications/SAT/Medical Exams/etc.). That is why there are several books and classes one can pay for that will help them "pass the test"…meaning answer the questions the way the test is expecting…which may or may not agree with really but be more theoritical. If the people who passed this firefighter test utilized these materials that help guide them to the answer the test is looking for, versus relying on a "real world" answer based on "real world" experience, then that would explain the desparity. In my opinion, tests over the last 20 to 30 years have failed to produce the best because of the huge market of companies that teach you "how to pass the test" which then produces folks smart enough to figure out how to "beat" the test versus true skill. If some form of this happened with the firefight test, it could be not just a race issue but an issue of people not realizing the "game" when it comes to tests. As a citizen, though, we should not want the outcome of any flawed test driving who will be responsible for our protection/care. Rather than fighting to promote someone based on the "principle" that they passed the test, we should be demanding that qualified people are picked. If the test does not yield qualified people in the real world, then regardless of color, we don’t want them serving the public.

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