Firefighters finally get their promotions after U.S. Supreme Court victory

By Chris Rizo | Dec 10, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court building

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (Legal Newsline)-The group of Connecticut firefighters who the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June were unfairly denied promotions because of their race received their promotions Thursday.

Twenty firefighters -- 19 white and one Hispanic -- who sued the city of New Haven, Conn., received their promotion badges at a formal ceremony.

They 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. Frank Ricci was the lead plaintiff in a landmark reverse discrimination case. He was promoted to lieutenant today.

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.

In related news, the Connecticut Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a $500,000 jury verdict in favor of two black firefighters who sued the city of New Haven after they were denied promotions. They said it was because of their race.

Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote in the unanimous decision that there was insufficient evidence of discrimination against Lt. Christopher Texeira and retired Lt. John Brantley.

A state jury had awarded Brantley about $260,000 and Texeira about $251,000 in July 2005.

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

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