June 29th, 2009
10:13 AM ET
5 years ago

BREAKING: White firefighters win high court appeal

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling backed firefighters in a 'reverse discirmination' case Monday.
The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling backed firefighters in a 'reverse discirmination' case Monday.

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 play 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.

Only one Latino and no African-American firefighters qualified for promotion based on the exam; the city subsequently decided not to certify the results and issued no promotions.

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 majority.

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Filed under: Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. Steve, NJ

    From what I read about the case, this was the appropriate decision. Jobs should be based on merit, job qualifications, performance, etc. Race shouldn't be an issue when hiring. The best candidates no matter whether they are black, white, hispanic, asian, arabic, etc., should be hired.

    Too bad our new Supreme Court Justice, who I feel should not be appointed, does not agree

    June 29, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  2. Bleeding Heart

    @Dan Holiday–Contrary to your assertions (as well as the radio blowhards, their listeners, and other rigfht-wing broad-brushers like you, most liberals have a sense of basic fairness, just as most conservatives have a basic sense of live and let live.

    I am living proof that you can be a liberal and believe that : 1) The discimination that has been going on against blacks in this country for over 300 years is wrong. 2) Racial discrimination is always wrong, regardless of the race of the instigator and the victim. 3) This nation should do everything possible to eliminate all forms of discrimination and provide redress to those who are victimized by it. 4) Two wrongs never make a right.

    June 29, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  3. Steve (the real one)

    @IndyVoter June 29th, 2009 11:27 am ET

    So, then, if states, cities, municipalities, etc…allow exams that are designed to exclude certain parts of the population, what is the recourse against that?
    ------------------------------–
    Fire fighting is a science, there's no black way to fight a fire, there's no white, yellow, red or brown way either! To answer your question, the recourse for exams that exclude certain portions of the population (minorities, if you are being honest) is:
    1. Lawfully (not emotionally) prove it!
    2. Once proven, sue!

    June 29, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  4. rs

    @ dominican mama 4 Obama June 29th, 2009 10:21 am ET

    At least the White firefighters had legal recourse. When we got screwed… we stayed screwed.
    ======================================================

    HOW???

    June 29, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  5. Amazed Citizen

    @ Sniffit

    You are so smart and educated. Please allow us to hear more of your "wisdom".

    Have you ever considered running for public office. You seem to know so much I am sure you will be quite sucessful at it.

    June 29, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  6. Adam

    What a lot of people here don't understand (actually what most people here don't appear to understand) is that the change the city made brought it in line with other cities in the state. In other words there are other cities in Connecticut that weight the test less or don't use it at all... in putting so much weight in the test (in New Haven it's basically all that matters) New Haven was the exception – not the rule.

    That said - what they did was still wrong. After people took the test, it was wrong of them to change the rules based on the outcome. Going forward, the test will be weighted less so if these same applicants went through the process again, the outcome would be different... but ti was clearly wrong of the city to change the process midstream.

    June 29, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  7. Adam

    I should also add for anybody saying, "The fact that Sotomayor was overruled on this is evidence she shoudln't be on the court."

    This was a 5-4 ruling overruling her. If she had been on the court, it STILL would have been a 5-4 ruling overruling her... so it's not clear to me how this proves anything. The outcome fo this case at the SC would have been the same even if she replaced Souter.

    June 29, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  8. Robin

    @ominican mama 4 Obama June 29th, 2009 10:32 am ET

    Interesting question: Do three decades of affirmative action make up for hundreds of years of exclusion. Hmmm.
    And please, save all the crapola about hard work, etc. When the decision makers are White which way do you think the scale is going to tip more often than not?

    ======================================================

    I'm so sad to say, you are a racist.

    June 29, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  9. Daron

    The problem that people fail to realize is that unless a test is for math, reading, grammar, or reading is is subjective. The test would be written from the author's prespective. It is very likely that you can exclude large groups of people from successfuly passing if they don't share the same types of common knowledge or experiences.

    I think the city made this about race. The test was probably bias, they knee jerked and created this mess. They should have just used the portions of the test that were not subjective (math, vocabulary, and reading) to widdle down the qualified applicants. Then held promotion boards with the chiefs and lieutenants from different parts of the city to come up with board questions (situational, mechanical, etc.). Then have those board members score the applicants and combined the scores from the written test and the boards to pick the top applicants, then promote them.

    So instead of doing something, they stalled everything. It wasn't discrimination that caused this fiasco it was poor planning and laziness.

    June 29, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  10. Tree Hugging Pacifist Liberal

    The people who are using this case as proof of Sotomayor's racism are obviously just being fed by talk radio. Anyone actually reading the case would see that Sotomayor and the Court decided the case appropriatly for their level. The city couldn't use the test results without violating Federal laws of discrimination. Sotomayor and the court agreed with the city. That's all. No racist commentary or horrific misusage of justice. So the proper process of these types of cases went forward with an appeal to the highest court of the land, where a declaration about the Federal laws of discrimination can actually be examined against the constitution. No matter if you think what the city did was wrong or not, Sotomayor and her court did the right thing. It was not in that court's power to allow the city to flaunt Federal discrimination laws.

    June 29, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  11. Stuffit

    The test was definitely biased, it was written in English.

    June 29, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  12. Willy Brown

    Good but do not like the way the liberal media is spinning this as White fire fighters. If you study you'll pass.

    June 29, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  13. DT

    Im a black male and agree with this ruling...promotions need to be given out on merit, not skin color...I have no problem with this ruling...at all. Hopefully the ones who didnt pass will do better next time...

    June 29, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. Steve (the real one)

    @IndyVoter June 29th, 2009 11:35 am ET

    Your logic is flawed, this was not a history test. It was about fire fighting! How many ways are there to fight fires? Earlier I said there is not a black, brown, white, yellow or red way! In addition a Latino DID pass the test! Last time I checked, Latinos were consider to be a minorityy!

    June 29, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  15. georgie

    well, if they were all black firefighters who were scoring the highest and not given their rights, then there would have been no question that it was discrimination!

    June 29, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  16. amwood

    Tests skewed due to race? What color is fire? What color is a firetruck?

    Sorry, but I want the best qualified protecting my hide whether they are white, green, yellow or black!

    June 29, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  17. Moody

    Oh yes... cause us white folks have it so bad....hahaha

    Listen Im white and this was not discrimination. It was a city following its rules and trying not to get sued.

    Regardless whether affirmative action laws & procedures are right or wrong, Republicans need to stop pretending and promoting that us whites have it so bad. We have more oppurtunity and make more money than anyone else in this country.

    June 29, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  18. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    It would be nice to know how the exams are "worded" so we could make up our minds if the exams were fair to all. You would think that there is a minimum requirement before anyone qualifies to even take the promotional exams.

    June 29, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  19. rob

    @Bleeding Heart

    I appreciate your comments, but the liberals use the exact arguments you've made to bash Conservatives and Republicans as insensative, uncaring, racists, haters etc.

    June 29, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  20. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    A 5-4 ruling? Then the deciding vote was cast by the Chief Justice.

    June 29, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
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