Black Firefighter’s Suit Thrown Out

Colin Ross, Yale Daily News, April 23, 2010

The controversial U.S. Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano is one step closer to final resolution.

Six months after a black New Haven firefighter charged the city with discrimination in a separate lawsuit, a federal judge on Wednesday dismissed the suit, which city officials had said was complicating Ricci v. DeStefano’s final resolution.

“The decision confirms what should be a basic principle of law: A municipality should not be held liable for following a ruling of the United States Supreme Court,” New Haven Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden said in an e-mail Thursday.

The black firefighter, Michael Briscoe, sued New Haven in October, alleging that the city’s 2003 firefighter promotional test had a “disparate impact” on blacks and unjustly prevented his promotion to lieutenant.

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Briscoe’s attorney, David Rosen, said Thursday that despite the Court’s ruling, the city was still liable for discrimination.

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Briscoe’s lawsuit claimed that the promotional test’s format discriminated against black candidates because it weighted the written section more heavily than the oral section. (The oral section of the exam counted for 40 percent, while the written counted for 60 percent.) Rosen wrote that public safety officials across the country count the oral section as 70 percent and the written as 30.

Briscoe scored the highest of all 77 candidates for lieutenant on the oral section but was not promoted because his low written score dropped him to 24th place. The lawsuit claimed that Briscoe would have been one of the top candidates if the city had used a fairer evaluation system.

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