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. PFFT

    Wow, the SCOTUS actually stood up against reverse discrimination.

    June 29, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  2. PSB

    As a Black male, this is disappointing. In the end it is setting Black people back. We should strive as a country for equality of opportunity, which they had to take the test, not outcome. People should be judged on their merits. As long as the test was not prima facie discriminatory then the results should stand, regardless of how many minorities passed or did not pass the test.

    June 29, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  3. JP

    If your kids were in a burning building who do you want saving them people promoted to meet a quota or people promoted by their achievements.

    June 29, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. PSB

    As a Black male, this is a good decision . What the liberals on the Court are doing will set Black people back. We should strive as a country for equality of opportunity, which they had to take the test, not outcome. People should be judged on their merits. As long as the test was not prima facie discriminatory then the results should stand, regardless of how many minorities passed or did not pass the test.

    June 29, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  5. Sniffit

    @ chuck, who said "You simply read this case and apply common sense"

    Ummm no...you read the case and apply the LAW.

    Point being: the LAW and common sense do not always have as much to do with one another as one might hope.

    June 29, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  6. IndyVoter

    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? I imagine it would be very difficult to 'prove' that the test was deliberately designed to exclude. So are you all saying that it is just OK to let that kind of thing happen? Tests designed to exclude have been a part of this country's history since before minorities were given the right to vote and even after. Where does it end? Where is the accountability? Or are the racists just going to be allowed to get away with it?

    June 29, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  7. Mark Cross Junction VA

    What ever happened to good old fashion hardwork for advancement, rather than skin color, being lazy and filling a quota.

    June 29, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  8. barbara campbell

    No surprise that the five conservative Supreme Court justices voted against minorities in the firefighter case, opening the door to job discrimination through test design.

    As part of my training in test design, the instructor gave the class a "test" that most African-Americans could pass but that most Caucasians could not. The difficulty in producing a "culture-free" exam was emphasized.

    Most people are aware that test-taking ability does not necessarily equate to on-the-job performance. Job promotions should be based upon job performance, not a test grade.

    June 29, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. Republicans= Party of NO (with no solution)

    As a Latina, I want Sotomayor to become a Supreme Court justice. However, I do think that she was wrong in the firefighter ruling. These people needed to get promoted.

    Equality for all.

    June 29, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  10. Paul

    If everyone in the fire department had the same amount of time to study for the promotion exam, the same access to the material they needed to know for the exam, and the exam administered the same for all trying for promotion the promotions should have stood. Just because some do better than others should not mean they lose the promotion they earned. The city should not be worried what only one part of the city will think of the results. I bet all promotions would have stood if it had been all minorities promoted and no one white was promoted. The city would not have care about any backlash. I'm glad the court is looking at everyone's civil rights and what they earn through effort and not just their race.

    June 29, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Craig in NC

    Ouch.... doesn't make Sondermeyer look too good....

    June 29, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  12. ghost

    Why are people blaming black folk at all in this is beyond me. Did any of the black firefighters complain? Some actually sided with the white fire fighters.

    The fact that this went 5-4 says something as well. I agree that the irefighters should've been promoted and that the city handled the situation wrong.

    June 29, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  13. Sniffit

    "I'm Obama backer, but he flubbed this nomination."

    God almighty in heaven when will this line of crap stop? "I supported Hillary, but now I'm voting for McCain"...such a line of vomit.

    For those who understand the law, this is no big deal. 17 years with something like 6 or 7 SCOTUS reversals or remands? About average for any judge.

    Problem is, the vast majority of people don't understand the law or the judicial system and are far more willing to put aside bothering to understand in order to try to take advantage of soundbite-style analysis to further a political agenda. The GOPers in office know this, so we'll be hearing plenty by, let's say 2pm today, about how horribly chagrined they are over Obama's pick boo hoo boobity hoo.

    She's going to be appointed guys...no filibuster, no nothing. Suck it up and grab a box of tissues if you need it...let it all out...you'll feel better after.

    June 29, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  14. coherent1

    Guys, let's shout 'study hard' and 'lazy liberals' when your buddy or family member doesn't give you the exam to study from, ALLREADY! You can deny it all dayt long, but formers have already admitted what minorities have charged against them for years. It's so common-placed that they don't think it's wrong until it happens to them. Now everybody wants to sing cumbaya!

    June 29, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  15. Sniffit

    @ IndyVoter, who asked "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?"

    Same thing...lawsuit. If you read between the lines here, Kennedy is saying that there wasn't enough evidence that THIS PARTICULAR test was inherenlty biased to support the decision to nix the results ("fear of litigation ALONE..."). They kinda botched the defense if you ask me. It is easy to imagine a scenario where throwing out the test results would be upheld, however, so people should keep in mind that this is entirely case specific.

    June 29, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  16. Steve (the real one)

    @Lynn June 29th, 2009 10:56 am ET
    Disappointing?…Yes Surprising?…No
    Why is this disappointing. This the way it should be. The highest scores, get promoted. Color is not nor should it be a factor! If these were doctors, exactly who would yo want to have operating on you?

    June 29, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  17. Dan Holiday

    Affirmative Action is the most racist concept ever. Basically, it says that because you are a minority you are not smart or talented enough to achieve things on your own. If I were a minority, I would be insulted. It is funny how Liberals vilify Republicans as being anti-minority when in fact it is they who are extremely racist. They perpetuate the programs and policies that keep minorities dependent to the government. They promote the programs and policies that keep minorities down. When are people going to wake up and realize this? Look at the dissenters on the Supreme Court. They are all liberals. They are the ones who think that the blacks needed the extra help to be qualified. Wow.

    June 29, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  18. IndyVoter

    To all the non-minority: Understand that I could create an exam right now that likely none of you could pass without outside assistance. Why? Because there are some things that I as a minority have that understanding or and/or access to that you likely don't. Is that 100% true? No. Of course not. But I would say a high enough percentage. Now imagine if my test was administered to everyone in order to get a promotion or some other benefit, and no non-minority people passed it. Wouldn't you think that perhaps there might be some funny business going on with the test?

    I'm just saying. Put the shoe on the other foot and imagine how you would approach the situation if it were you.

    June 29, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. Drooling Liberal


    Nice attempt at a straw man arguement....."Whaaa, whaaa, are white people gonna be allowed to make racist tests? Whaa, whaaa"

    YOu realized it was the white voter that just elected a black predsident. But your a "victimhood" liberal, so i don't expect you to get your head out of the sand anytime too soon.

    June 29, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  20. Bleeding Heart

    @IndyVoter–If the test was rigged by racists I would agree with you. But just because the blacks who took this test failed, that doesn't means it was rigged. If there was any suspicion of that, the citizens of New Haven should bemand a full accounting of how the test was developed, and who developed it. Such "sunshine" would have a very high likelihood of exposing the bias you seem to assume the test had.

    June 29, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |

    About time reverse discrimination got some air time, this stuff has been going on for years and the media never covers it, but let some supposed discrimination happen and Al and the media are all over it.Case in point the Jena six, letting criminals off light because of their skin color. The civil war was fought 144 years ago, get over it.This also shows how wrong sotomayer is for the supreme court.

    June 29, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  22. Sotomayor --- bigotted and biased

    Sotomayor has once again be rebuffed on appeal This time the Supreme Court has told her loud and clear that she is racist and her decsion was WRONG wrong and WRONG

    We do not need a racist on the high court whose concept of equal justice for all is biased and perverted

    June 29, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  23. Glenn

    THIS is why we have a Supreme Court. If the test was racially biased, i.e. questions about the Brady Bunch, Friends, or Jeff Foxworthy then I could see throwing the results out. The questions were about firefighting procedures and leadership which is not biased. Bravo Supreme Court....Bravo.

    June 29, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  24. Mike in NYC


    Tests such as these are designed NOT to exclude. Federal anti-discrimination rules make sure of that. There are testing companies that design exams with the specific purpose of eliminating any vestiges of "bias."

    The non-Whites that failed this test, in addition to the Whites that failed, simply did not qualify. I know that's hard for you to accept, but that's the way it is.

    Now go and knock yourself out making creative excuses.

    June 29, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. jim

    Sotomayor shot down again !! Is this liberal lardhead EVER right ?!!

    June 29, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
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