June 29, 2009
Ricci Firefighters Race Discrimination Case: Preliminary Analysis
In a 5-4 decision, with the Court's opinion authored by Kennedy, the majority concludes that the city of New Haven violated Title VII, reversing the Second Circuit.
Weighing in at 93 pages, the opinion is available as pdf here.
Here is the split amongst the Justices:
KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and SCALIA, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined.
GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and BREYER, JJ., joined.
The Court's majority opinion avoided the equal protection challenge, but the Court does seem to look to equal protection doctrine for guidance. The Court's syllabus explains:
Ginsburg, dissenting, views the importance of the Equal Protection Clause differently:
In construing Title VII, I note preliminarily, equal protection doctrine is of limited utility. The Equal Protection Clause, this Court has held, prohibits only intentional discrimination; it does not have a disparate-impact component. See Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U. S. 256, 272 (1979); Washington v. Davis, 426 U. S. 229, 239 (1976). Title VII, in contrast, aims to eliminate all forms of employment discrimination, unintentional as well as deliberate. Until today, cf. ante, at 25; ante, p. 1 (SCALIA, J., concurring), this Court has never questioned the constitutionality of the disparate-impact component of Title VII, and for good reason.
Dissenting Opinion at 21.
The Court's opinion was eagerly anticipated, not only because of the important issue of the intersection between Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause, especially when race discrimination is raised by white plaintiffs, but because Sonia Sotomayor is one of the authors of the opinion below.
As a reminder, the Second Circuit opinion was a per curiam opinion signed by Rosemary S. Pooler, Robert D. Sack and Sonia Sotomayor, and is typically (for per curiam opinions) succinct:
We affirm, for the reasons stated in the thorough, thoughtful, and well-reasoned opinion of the court below. Ricci v. DeStefano, 554 F.Supp.2d 142, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73277, 2006 WL 2828419 (D.Conn. Sept. 28, 2006). In this case, the Civil Service Board found itself in the unfortunate position of having no good alternatives. We are not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs' expression of frustration. Mr. Ricci, for example, who is dyslexic, made intensive efforts that appear to have resulted in his scoring highly on one of the exams, only to have it invalidated. But it simply does not follow that he has a viable Title VII claim. To the contrary, because the Board, in refusing to validate the exams, was simply trying to fulfill its obligations under Title VII when confronted with test results that had a disproportionate racial impact, its actions were protected.
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