The 2003 firefighter promotions exam that sparked a Supreme Court lawsuit and national controversy is continuing to cause legal headaches for the city. Though New Haven asked the Supreme Court to revisit the matter in hopes of ending the saga, the Court decided Monday to stay out of it.
In 2003, the city administered a written and oral examination to determine which firefighters would be promoted to higher-ranking positions. After no black candidates scored well enough to be promoted, administrators refused to certify the exam results, prompting one Hispanic and 19 white firefighters to sue the city for racial discrimination.
Six months later, in a separate lawsuit, black New Haven firefighter Michael Briscoe charged that the city’s test had a disparate impact on black candidates under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
After a five-year legal battle on the first lawsuit, Ricci v. DeStefano, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the plaintiffs in 2009. The city then certified the 2003 exam results and promoted 14 of the plaintiffs.
But a year ago, a New York appeals court ruled that Briscoe’s lawsuit could move forward despite the Ricci decision. The city argued that the appeals court ruling contravened the Supreme Court’s holding in Ricci — because the high court required that the city use the original test results to avoid discriminating against whites, the New Haven legal team argued, it could not be held liable for discriminating against black candidates as well.
New Haven appealed the Briscoe decision to the Supreme Court, which, in a short written order on Monday, threw out the appeal and left the lower-court ruling in place. Briscoe said in a statement that he “is entitled to his day in court,” and with Monday’s ruling, that case is now set to be heard in district court.