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

BREAKING: White firefighters win high court appeal

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/06/29/supreme.court.discrimination/art.supreme.cnn.jpg caption="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.

Full story

Filed under: Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. Stuffit

    I wonder what the effects of this ruling will be on Judge Sotomayor's confirmation.

    I agree with this decision. Should people that can read the top ten lines on an eye chart have their results invalidated if a blind man fails the test?

    June 29, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  2. Liberals don't use common sense

    Maybe Ms. Sotomayor used a little too much of her upbringing in deciding incorrectly against the firefighters?

    June 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. Mike in NYC

    Excellent, excellent. I'm not surprised that this was a close one, though.

    BTW, it's not "reverse discrimination," just discrimination.

    The Federal rules that made this litigation necessary need to be ended. If you don't qualify, you don't get the job. Over and out.

    June 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  4. J Wills

    Firehouses and firefighters have and always will be racist.

    Minorities have to jump through hoops and cower on their knees to get a firefighting job.

    Then you have to listen to country music and racist humor (directed at minorities only of course) all day long.

    June 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  5. crushliberalism

    So since Sotomayor was overruled on this case, does this put a dent in her claim that by virtue of her race and gender, she would make better decisions than non-white male judges?

    June 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  6. Paul from Phoenix

    I don't care if the person is black, white, hispanic or asian (or anything else I missed). I don't care.

    Being a firefighter involves saving people's lives. I want the most qualified people on the job. If the most qualified candidates are being passed over because of race, then the potential exists tat people's lives are being put in danger.

    When people's lives are directly on the line, the most qualified candidate should always win out.

    June 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  7. Tree

    Great ruling. About time they get it right. My parents were both passed over for promotion in their local police departments because they were white. They both passed the promotion tests and scored high enough to get promoted, only to see someone who scored way below them get the new job. However, they didn't sue, just sucked it up and went about their job. I'm proud that the firefighters stood up for their rights and that the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. I'd be interested to hear what Judge Sotomayor thought during the case, especially since they only released a 1 paragraph ruling.

    June 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |

    "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"
    However a test designed to be more favarable to a certain class, gender or race of people is also counterproductive in reducing the inequality gap between white and minorities in certain professions.
    I think in rendering their the decison should have aknowledge the simple basis that a test alone should not be a basis of recruiting or advancement of an employee, and that recruiting should take in account the the need for a more diverse workforce at all level of decison
    The SCOTUS by rejecting the the decision of the lower court failed to understand a basic principle equal employment access

    June 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  9. ric in NY


    What's Barry going to do now? Finally some justice from the far left politically correct US court system that does whatever it can to punish whites for their hard work and career success.

    This sends a message that just because someone is black or Latino doesn't mean they can blame whites anymore for scoring poor on a test or being denied a promotion. The whole idea that " its the white man's fault " is getting old and this ruling is proof.

    June 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  10. People's Voice

    This is why we need more white men on the SCOTUS. The whites in this country are just not protected any more.

    June 29, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  11. Mississippi Mike

    For the record, it was White and Hispanic firefighters who won. Now maybe we can take a look at all of the other racist "affirmative action" programs out there and rid our country of systemic racial discrimination once and for all.

    June 29, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  12. skyhawkdriver

    Justice has been served..why would someone seek advancement through the written exam process,score a higher grade than the competition,then be denied promotion based on the color of his skin??...this has been the practice of many civil service boards for too long..why advance an under-qualified person??..this endangers the lives of citizens..this goes to prove that the presidents nominee for the supreme court is under-qualified and her name should be withdrawn..it proves that her decisions are based on the color of a persons skin

    June 29, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  13. Tom in Delaware

    Good...now let's get rid of Affirmative Action and REALLY rid the country of all it's racist policies.

    June 29, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. John, Brooklyn, NY

    Its interesting that the Republicans want a Supreme Court that is above politics and doesn't "legislate from the bench". Yet, the Republican-packed court specifically chose to take up this matter with timing to target an Obama nominee who poses a threat to conservatives' choke hold on the court's majority. So much for conservatives being above politics, eh?

    June 29, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  15. Steve - Ohio

    Ah!!!!!! A wise Latino woman!!!!

    June 29, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  16. Chris

    So what did the other four judges say?

    Regardless, Sonia's path to the Supreme Court just got steeper.

    June 29, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  17. Jessica

    Makes you wonder if the results had favored minorities, and the white people had asked for it to be thrown out....if the SC would have ruled this way. I don't believe we've made enough progress that race isnt a factor...let alone in SC rulings.

    Though, it does boggle my mind how tests can truly be biased towards one race over another, given that we should all be getting the same education...and the fact that some may not be soaking that eduaction in, doesnt exactly suggest that we ought to make the test easier...or if language is an issue, why arent we encouraging them to get better at english rather than aiding them in being uneducated?

    I've met my fair share of people who speak way too much slang that they have no ability anymore to understand what proper english is...I can't fathom making tests EASIER for these people...why is it MY fault they are too stupid to know the difference between Sea and See?

    June 29, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  18. RH

    New racism is no better than old racism.

    People discriminated against in the past do not deserve any special treatment or 'adjusted' consideration of their merits going forward – they deserve to have discrimination against them end, that is all. New forms of discrimination cannot and will not alleviate discrimination retroactively or proactively.

    June 29, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  19. pat c

    justice was done! the men with the highest score should get the promotion. should have nothing to do with color of skin. if the firefighters were all black or all white ,the men with the highest scores would have gotten the promotion as it should be.

    June 29, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  20. Jason

    Boy I sure can't wait for her to get on the US Supreme Court. She makes such great decisions and doesn't seem to be biased at all!

    June 29, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  21. Hugo

    I think it is about time that civil rights be applied to all colors, including white. Why on earth would anyone want to place a person in a position that someone else qualifies better for? I think we have finally hit the tipping point in America for color to be a moot topic. What ever will Jesse and Al do for a living now? By the way, did the Jenna six get charged and tried under hate crime laws?

    June 29, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  22. patSuffolkNY

    Too bad this decision didn't happen back in the early 1990s, when the Federal Courts threw out a Suffolk County NY police exam after blacks challenged it because there weren't enough blacks who scored high on it to get picked for Suffolk County Police...one of the highest paying police forces in the country. My white partner scored in the 90s out 100 on that exam...the new test, that was supposed to right the wrong of the last exam earned him and most white males with a college education, scores in the 70s! Why? Because you got more points if you were a minority, and less points if you had higher education degree on the background section of the exam. Total bs! This liberal democrat applauds this Decision from the Supreme Court! Unfortunately, it was too late for many.

    June 29, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  23. Lynn


    June 29, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  24. TCM

    I wonder if the Sotomayor would have sided with the city if all of the firefighters would have been hispanic women....

    Because they scored higher on the test, a test that was given equally to all, and coincidentally all the highest scores belonged to whites and one hispanic...somehow it's not fair?

    This is racism, and on it's merit, should disqualify Sotomayor...had this been a white judge, making judgement against hispanic firefighters, there'd have been riots in the streets, and bleeding heart liberals crying on the news..

    Liberals want "equality," too bad they don't understand the meaning of the word.

    June 29, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
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