NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The U.S Supreme Court has ruled in favor of 20 New Haven firefighters who sued the city because they were denied promotion.
In a five to four decision, the court ruled that 20 firefighters, 19 white and one hispanic, were unfairly denied promotions because of their race after the city of New Haven threw out the test results.
New Haven said it did so because no minorities would have been promoted.
Jon Bauer, an employment discrimination law professor at the University of Connecticut, said the justices sided with the plaintiffs because New Haven did not have evidence to back-up its belief that the test results showed the exam was unfair to minorities.
"The court's approach really doesn't allow employers to just say because we'd like the leadership to reflect the composition of the community we're going to grant a preference for that reason," said Bauer. "The court has, in this and other cases, the position that that's not a sufficient basis for considering race and promotions decisions."
Bauer added the decision leaves some uncertainty on discrimination law that will need sorted out in future cases.
"For example, all the court says in order to throw out a test that has a disparate impact, an employer has to have a strong basis in evidence for believing that the test isn't valid or that there are less discriminatory alternatives," said Bauer. "They really don't provide very much guidance on how much of a showing is needed to show a strong basis in evidence. They said what New Haven had wasn't enough but it's left pretty unclear what would be enough."
Bauer said many fire departments use a system where people applying for promotions have to perform in real life situations and are evaluated based on how they make decisions. He said if New Haven had adopted this type of evaluation for promotions, they might not have faced this situation.