Unanimous Supreme Court Allows Firefighter Racial Discrimination Suit to Proceed

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held today that a group of African-American firefighters can sue the city of Chicago over a discriminatory hiring test, overturning a lower court decision that said that the firefighters filed their claim too late.

Between 1996 and 2002, the city of Chicago conducted 11 rounds of hiring relying on the results of a test plaintiffs alleged caused a disparate impact on African-Americans in violation of Title VII.

African-American applicants filed a discrimination suit and won their case in federal district court.  However, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, saying that the claim was filed more than 300 days after the discriminatory act – the filing window for disparate impact claims established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which the Seventh Circuit determined was the test itself, not each hiring decision made as a result of that test.

Rejecting the appeals court’s decision, Justice Antonin Scalia stated in his majority opinion that “it does not follow that no new violation occurred—and no new claims could arise—when the city implemented that decision down the road.”

“Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that job-seekers should not be denied justice based on a technicality.  This victory goes well beyond the immediate results in Chicago. It should ensure that no other fire department or employer uses a discriminatory test, and LDF will go the extra mile to make sure that they do not,” said John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., who argued the case before the Court.

The Court was asked to rule on whether or not the 300-day window begins with the test or every subsequent hiring decision. The Court remanded the case back to the lower courts to decide whether or not the city’s actions violated federal anti-discrimination law.