Passed-over firefighters seek back pay, other damages

Chris Rizo Dec. 21, 2009, 11:44am

U.S. Supreme Court building

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (Legal Newsline)-A group of Connecticut firefighters who the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June were unfairly denied promotions because of their race are suing for damages, including back pay and legal fees.

In a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in New Haven, plaintiffs' attorney Karen Torre argued that the firefighters are entitled to back pay with interest and attorney fees.

Twenty firefighters sued in 2004, after the city threw out their test scores on a promotional exam because no African-American candidate received a high enough score to also be considered for the same promotion.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the firefighters.

For its part, the city had argued that allowing the test scores with such wide racial discrepancies could have violated federal law and opened the city to being sued by minority test-takers.

"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," Associate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the high court's 5-4 majority.

At trial, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven sided with the city, saying none of the plaintiffs were harmed since no one was promoted. She said the decision to disregard the test results affected all applicants equally.

"New Haven did not race-norm the scores (to favor minority candidates), they simply decided to start over," the judge said. "While the evidence shows that race was taken into account in the decision not to certify the test results, the result was race-neutral: all the test results were discarded."

A three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, and later refused a rehearing of the case.

The case was Ricci v. DeStefano, No. 07-1428.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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