Monday, June 29, 2009

New Haven Court Ruling Creates New Legal Standard That Restricts Equal Employment Opportunity

The Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano is a step backward from the goal of equal employment opportunity. A narrow majority of the Court created a new legal standard that places additional hurdles in front of employers seeking to fulfill their obligations under this nation's core antidiscrimination law. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is disappointed that five Justices departed from well-established precedents that were properly applied by the courts below.

"The Supreme Court's interpretation imposes new burdens on employers and makes it more difficult to maintain a discrimination-free workplace," said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.

The four dissenting Justices, who joined an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, accurately explained the critical need for robust compliance with federal civil rights laws, especially in fire departments, which have historically and notoriously denied employment to African Americans, other people of color, and women. Justice Ginsburg criticized the majority for telling only half the story and ignoring that "[f]irefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow."

Although we have made some progress as a nation, discrimination in firefighting jobs remains a significant problem. Just this year, the U.S. Department of Justice entered into settlement agreements requiring Portsmouth, Virginia and Dayton, Ohio to cease using discriminatory procedures to hire firefighters.

"Faced with the reality of continuing racial exclusion, an employer has a responsibility to abandon unfair employment practices and adopt those that are fair and effective," said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.

While the Court's ruling unnecessarily invalidates New Haven's actions, the majority opinion does not forbid employers from careful and deliberate efforts to develop employment selection procedures that fairly predict workplace success without fencing out entire groups. The Court's majority recognized that "employers' voluntary compliance efforts . . . are essential to [our civil rights laws] and to Congress's efforts to eradicate workplace discrimination." LDF believes that ultimately, employers will be able to comply with this decision and continue to take vigorous steps to ensure equal opportunity for all workers.

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