Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ricci v. DeStefano

Plaintiffs argue that defendants’ decision and/or advocacy against certifying the exam results amounted to intentional discrimination against plaintiffs, 17 of whom are white and one of whom is Hispanic, in favor of Hispanic and African-American examinees who were favored due to their race and their alleged political support of Mayor DeStefano, via the Rev. Boise Kimber. Plaintiffs essentially argue that defendants’ professed desire to comply with Title VII’s anti-disparate-impact requirements was in fact a pretext for intentional discrimination against white candidates. …

Defendants proffer as their legitimate non-discriminatory reason that they desired to comply with the letter and the spirit of Title VII. Plaintiffs deride this “feigned desire to ‘comply’ with Title VII,” arguing that defendants in fact violated that statute, and their actions were a mere pretext for promoting the interests of African-American firefighters and political supporters of the mayor.

As plaintiffs point out, this case presents the opposite scenario of the usual challenge to an employment or promotional examination, as plaintiffs attack not the use of allegedly racially discriminatory exam results, but defendants’ reason for their refusal to use the results…

Plaintiffs do not dispute that the results showed a racially adverse impact on African- American candidates for both the Lieutenant and Captain positions, as judged by the EEOC Guidelines.

Thus, it is necessarily undisputed that, had minority firefighters challenged the results of the examinations, the City would have been in a position of defending tests that, under applicable Guidelines, presumptively had a disparate racial impact.

Specifically, the EEOC “four-fifths rule” provides that a selection tool that yields “[a] selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths (4/5) (or eighty percent) of the rate for the group with the highest rate will generally be regarded by the Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact, while a greater than four-fifths rate will generally not be regarded by Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact.”

Here, the evidence shows that on the 2003 Lieutenant’s exam the pass rate for whites was 60.5%, for African-Americans 31.6% and Hispanics 20%. The four-fifths score would be 48%….

…The EEOC’s Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection Procedures create a presumption that “[t]he use of any selection procedure which has an adverse impact on the hiring, promotion, or other employment or membership opportunities of members of any race, sex, or ethnic group will be considered to be discriminatory and inconsistent with these guidelines, unless the procedure has been validated in accordance with these guidelines.”

The real crux of plaintiffs’ argument is that defendants refused to explore alternatives or conduct a validity study because they had already decided that they did not like the inevitable promotional results if the process continued to its expected conclusion and that their “diversity” rationale is prohibited as reverse discrimination under Title VII. In Hayden v. County of Nassau the Second Circuit held that race-conscious configuration of an entry-level police department exam did not violate Title VII or the Equal Protection Clause. In that case, the Nassau County Police Department was operating under several consent decrees prohibiting it from engaging in discrimination in its selection of police officers, and particularly from utilizing examinations with disparate impact on minority applicants. Following development of a test by the county and Department of Justice advisors, a validity analysis was conducted to determine which configuration of the test was sufficiently job-related “yet minimized the adverse impact on minority applicants. Of the twenty-five sections administered to the applicants, the [technical report] recommended that Nassau County use nine sections as the . . . test.” A class of White and Latino officers challenged use of the adjusted test under Title VII and the Fourteenth Amendment, inter alia, contending that the deliberate design of the test to reduce adverse impact on African-American candidates necessarily discriminated against them on the basis of race. The Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs’ contentions, finding plaintiffs were “mistaken in treating racial motive as a synonym for a constitutional violation” and observing that “[e]very antidiscrimination statute aimed at racial discrimination, and every enforcement measure taken under such a statute, reflect a concern with race. That does not make such enactments or actions unlawful or automatically suspect . . .”

The Hayden court further held that the construction of the Nassau County test for the purpose of minimizing adverse impact on minorities was not intentional “reverse discrimination” against whites because the same nine test sections were used for all applicants, so it was “simply not analogous to a quota system or a minority set-aside where candidates, on the basis of their race, are not treated uniformly.” Rejecting plaintiffs’ argument that the design of the test reflected impermissible discriminatory intent, the Second Circuit wrote that “nothing in our jurisprudence precludes the use of raceneutral means to improve racial and gender representation. . . . [T]he intent to remedy the disparate impact of the prior exams is not equivalent to an intent to discriminate against non-minority applicants.”

In Kirkland v. New York State Department of Correctional Services,, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s approval of a settlement that determined promotional order based partly on exam results and partly on race-normed adjustments to the exam, after minority employees made a prima facie showing that the test had an adverse impact on minorities. The Court of Appeals noted that “voluntary compliance is a preferred means of achieving Title VII’s goal of eliminating employment discrimination,”, and that requiring a full hearing on the test’s job-validity before approving a settlement “would seriously undermine Title VII’s preference for voluntary compliance and is not warranted,” id. at 1130. Thus, “a showing of a prima facie case of employment discrimination through a statistical demonstration of disproportionate racial impact constitutes a sufficiently serious claim of discrimination to serve as a predicate for a voluntary compromise containing race-conscious remedies.”

The Second Circuit expanded Kirkland in Bushey v. New York State Civil Service Commission, There, the civil service commission had administered a promotional examination that had a significant adverse impact, with non-minority applicants passing at almost twice the rate of minority applicants. The defendants race-normed the scores for each group, increasing the pass rate of the minority group to the equivalent of the non-minority group, and effectively making an additional 8 minority individuals eligible for promotion, without taking any non-minorities off the list. The Court of Appeals held that the initial results, particularly “the score distributions of minority and nonminority candidates, were sufficient to establish a prima facie showing of adverse impact,” and, consistent with Kirkland, “a showing of a prima facie case of employment discrimination through a statistical demonstration of disproportional racial impact constitutes a sufficiently serious claim of discrimination to serve as a predicate for employer-initiated, voluntary race-conscious remedies,”. In other words, a prima facie case is one way that a race-conscious remedy is justified, but it is not required: all that is required is “a sufficiently serious claim of discrimination” to warrant such a remedy. Id. at 228; see 9Plaintiffs denigrate reliance on Kirkland and Bushey on the grounds that the “race-norming” procedures utilized in those cases would be unlawful under the 1991 amendments to the Civil Rights Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(l) (“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for a respondent, in connection with the selection or referral of applicants or candidates for employment or promotion, to adjust the scores of, use different cutoff scores for, or otherwise alter the results of, employment related tests on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”)….

In this case, the parties agree that the adverse impact ratios for African-American and Hispanic test-takers on both the Lieutenant and Captain exams were too low to pass muster under the EEOC’s “four-fifths rule.” As Kirkland and Bushey held, a statistical showing of discrimination, and particularly a pass rate below the “four-fifths rule,” is sufficient to make out a prima facie case of discrimination, and therefore sufficient to justify voluntary race-conscious remedies.9 Here, defendants’ remedy is “race conscious” at most because their actions reflected their intent not to implement a promotional process based on testing results that had an adverse impact on African- Americans and Hispanics. The remedy chosen here was decidedly less “race conscious” than the remedies in Kirkland and Bushey,.because New Haven did not race-norm the scores, they simply decided to start over, to develop some new assessment mechanism with less disparate impact. Thus, while the evidence shows that race was taken into account in the decision not to certify the test results, the result was race-neutral: all the test results were discarded, no one was promoted, and firefighters of every race will have to participate in another selection process to be considered for promotion. Indeed, there is a total absence of any evidence of discriminatory animus towards plaintiffs – under the reasoning of Hayden… “nothing in our jurisprudence precludes the use of race-neutral means to improve racial and gender representation. . . . [T]he intent to remedy the disparate impact of the prior exams is not equivalent to an intent to discriminate against non-minority applicants.”

Plaintiffs contend that Hayden is distinguishable by the fact that the remedy approved there was pursuant to previous consent decrees; they do not explain why they view this distinction as significant. As Bushey held, it would contravene the remedial purpose of Title VII if an employer were required to await a lawsuit before voluntarily implementing measures with less discriminatory impact…

Thus, while the facts of Hayden were slightly different than those here, the Court finds the holding quite relevant and instructive. Defendants’ motivation to avoid making promotions based on a test with a racially disparate impact, even in a political context, does not, as a matter of law, constitute discriminatory intent, and therefore such evidence is insufficient for plaintiffs to prevail on their Title VII claim. Accordingly, the Court will grant defendants’ motion and deny plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on this claim.

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