A discrimination case involving a test administered to prospective firefighters was argued in the Supreme Court yesterday.
The court was not addressing whether or not the test was discriminatory, but rather examining the specific issue of when the 300-day statute of limitations begins to run when the city announces reliance on such a test.
In the present case, a test score of 65 meant an applicant was considered qualified, but the city set a higher cut-off score of 89 points that the district court called, “statistically meaningless.” That ruling that was not contested on appeal. Though 37 per cent of all applicants were black, only 11.5% of black test takers scored 89 or above, Adam Liptak reported.
Adam Liptak for the New York Times: The Chicago firefighters sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination in employment and required them to file a claim within 300 days of the contested practice. The argument on Monday concerned whether each of 11 rounds of hiring based on the 1995 test reset the clock on the statute of limitations.
Though predicting how the Supreme Court will decide a case is always risky, several of the justices seemed somewhat supportive of the firefighters’ argument that the statute of limitations begins each time there is a discriminatory use of the test, rather than only on the day the use of the test is announced.
This would not be a case with a flood of future lawsuits; the city discontinued use of the discriminatory cut-off scores in October of 2001, so any lawsuit not yet filed would well exceed the statue of limitations, no matter when it is set.
Much of the discussion centered around when the disparate impact was felt. Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal put forth what seems like the most simple explanation of why the state of limitations beginning to run at the test date is not the best policy. “If the rule of the city of Chicago were adopted, then an employer who made it 300 days without an [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] charge being filed … would then be able to, for all time, use that discriminatory test,” Kaytal said.
The decision is expected before fall, the AP reported.
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