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WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a potential landmark case examining the use of race as a factor in public sector hiring.

The high court said Friday it will hear the case, which stems from a 2004 lawsuit filed by white firefighters in New Haven, Conn.

The plaintiffs claim that while they passed an exam for a job promotion, their results were tossed because no African-American candidate received a high enough score to also be considered for the same promotion.

In all, 17 white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter who passed the exam sued the city, claiming their constitutional right to equal treatment was trampled. They also said the city violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against them solely because they were not minorities.

U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven, Conn., rejected the claims in a 48-page opinion.

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."

The plaintiffs appealed Bond Arterton's ruling only to have a three-judge panel of the New York-based Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirm the trial court ruling.

The appeals panel called the judge's ruling "thorough, thoughtful, and well-reasoned" in their one-paragraph opinion.

"We are not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs' expression of frustration," the appeals panel wrote. "But it simply does not follow that he has a viable Title VII claim."

In a statement, city officials said they look forward to presenting their case to the justices.

"While the city is not surprised that the Supreme Court decided to grant cert in this case, it remains confident that the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals correctly decided the issue," the statement from New Haven City Hall said.

The case is Ricci v. DeStefano (07-1428 and 08-328). It is expected to be heard in April.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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