Later this morning, the United States Supreme Court will hold oral argument on an important reverse discrimination case brought by a group of firefighters in New Haven, CT.  I’ve summarized the case in prior posts (including the latest here).

This case, Ricci v. DeStefano, presents recurring issues regarding proper application of Title VII and the  Equal Protection Clause to the civil service. New Haven firefighters and lieutenants claim that they should have been promoted based on job-related examinations and merit selection rules mandated by local law. The City of New Haven has thus far refused because city officials believed that the examination and rules may have had a disparate impact on minorities. 

I’ll be commenting later today about the oral argument (once the transcripts become available here) but suffice to say that the media hype surrounding this case is in full force. 

So, what exactly are the questions that the court will decide? Well, perhaps not the questions that everyone wants.  The issues are, as they always are with the Supreme Court, a little more technical in nature. They are as follows: 

  1. When an otherwise valid civil service selection process yields unintended racially disproportionate results, may municipalities reject the results and the successful candidates for reasons of race absent the demonstration required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e- 2(k) [Title VII]?
  2. Does 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(l) [Title VII] which makes it unlawful for employers "to adjust the scores of, use different cutoff scores for, or otherwise alter the results of, employment related tests on the basis of race … ," permit employers to refuse to act on the results of such tests for reasons of race?
  3. If, citing the public interest in eradicating political patronage, racism and corruption in civil service, a state’s highest court mandates strict compliance with local laws requiring race-blind competitive merit selection procedures, does 42 U.S.C. §2000e-7 permit federal courts to relieve municipalities from compliance with such laws?

As for various previews of the case, you can find the SCOTUS Blog preview here, the Workplace Prof blog recap here, and the Hartford Courant’s recap here.