[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.