Monday, June 29, 2009

The Right Decision in Ricci v. DeStefano

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New Haven firefighters.

Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent, arguing that there was "substantial evidence of multiple flaws in the tests New Haven used."

The problem with this argument is that the City of New Haven refused a technical review of the exam by IOS (the company that designed the test), and moved to strike evidence of test validity when it was originally presented by the Petitioner in district court. The City contended that "[e]vidence of pre-examination planning and test validity is . . . irrelevant because the issue is not whether the tests were valid." [See Petitioner's Reply Brief - Footnote 18]

Even if Ginsburg believes that the test was invalid, this was not the reason why the city vacated the results. City officials vacated the results because of an imbalanced racial outcome, which they feared would lead to lawsuit.


petpluto said...

City officials vacated the results because of an imbalanced racial outcome, which they feared would lead to lawsuit.

From what I've gathered, City officials rejected the test because in practice it demonstrated a disparate impact they didn't foresee, which they feared would lead to a lawsuit.

So here's my question: Why should the motivation of the City be taken into account? If we acknowledge that there is an obvious reason laws are compulsory instead of voluntary, then New Haven's more selfish reasons for looking further into Title VII should not be a reason to reverse the 2nd Circuit's decision. There was clearly disparate impact, and so their fears of being sued were grounded in a realistic (and precedented) interpretation of the Civil Rights Act and Title VII.

This is a case I'm morally ambivalent about. I can see where Ricci and the other firefighters are coming from; I even feel bad for them. But I was also worried about the impact on the Civil Rights Act (thankfully, that impact seems to be fairly narrow), and I was/am concerned about how the make-up of the superiors in the fire station do not reflect the racial mix the streets of New Haven do.

mikhailbakunin said...

The question is whether the City vacated the results solely on the basis of disparate impact, without a legitimate belief that the test was flawed. Since they refused a technical evaluation of the test – and in fact argued in district court that evidence of test validity is irrelevant – it’s pretty clear that at the time they vacated the results, city officials did not have a legitimate belief that the test was flawed. They vacated the results simply because they got the wrong racial outcome. If city officials had looked at the imbalanced racial outcome, and then commissioned a technical review of the exam which found the test to be flawed, they would have been on more solid footing.

Some have tried to argue that the imbalanced racial outcome proves the test was invalid, but I think that’s just blatantly circular reasoning.

You’re right – the fact that city officials were afraid of lawsuits from minority candidates doesn’t really matter, except for the obvious irony.