In late June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of white New Haven firefighters and their claims of racial discrimination. The SCOTUS decision in Ricci v. DeStefano overturned an earlier decision by then-2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
Given the SCOTUS decision, I should have seen the lawsuit by a black New Haven firefighter coming. It’s such an obvious reaction to SCOTUS that I’m surprised it took this long. Here’s the introduction to the complaint:
The 2003 New Haven fire lieutenant examination had two parts: a multiple-choice written test and an oral exam. Ranking on the eligibility list depended on how the City chose to weight the scores on the two components. The oral exam was a better way to assess candidates’ skills and abilities than the written test and had less disparate impact on African-Americans. Yet the City chose to weight the written test 60 percent and the oral exam 40 percent. This weighting reduced the validity of the overall selection process; it was arbitrarily chosen, without any pretense that it was job related; it was contrary to standard practice among similar public safety agencies, where the norm is to weight the oral component 70 percent; it had a disparate impact on African-American candidates; and it will prevent the plaintiff from being promoted to the rank of lieutenant, even though he is one of the most highly qualified candidates.
Apparently, this plaintiff had the highest score on the oral exam. But once the written exam was factored in, the plaintiff was ranked 24th and not eligible for promotion.
The disparate impact of “cramming,” after the jump.
The crux of the complaint is that the written exam didn’t have anything to do with being a firefighter:
12. In contrast to the oral exam, the written test did not even attempt to measure the skills and abilities required of a fire lieutenant.
Instead, it was all about cramming:
13. In fact, the written test had little or no value in selecting fire department
supervisors. Some of its deficiencies were the following: …
The test therefore rewarded cramming – the acquisition of identified information in a short period of time for the purpose of regurgitating it once, without regard to whether the regurgitated knowledge is understood or retained. This emphasis on cramming defeated the purpose of the test, which was to determine who would be the best leaders for the department for years or even decades into the future.
Wait a minute, there is a test out there that does not reward “the acquisition of identified information in a short period of time for the purpose of regurgitating it once”? Thank God I never had to take such an abomination! Memorizing information for single-use purposes is my thing.
Of course, I don’t want to be a firefighter, or really anywhere near a fire. I think I’d be a safety liability in a situation that involves burning:
14. The differences between the written test and the oral exam disadvantaged a candidate, like the plaintiff, who had diligently studied and learned all the material taught during years of on-the-job experience and extensive in-service training, compared to one who did little until the run-up to the exam but then memorized the facts that were included in the assigned written materials. Candidates who demonstrated job related skills and abilities were at a disadvantage compared with those who showed less skill and ability as fire lieutenants but were strong on memorization and multiple-choice test-taking skills.
15. This effect was real, not hypothetical: most of the top thirteen ranked candidates
(all are white) did not score high on the oral exam, the only portion that attempted to measure the candidates’ job related skills and abilities; yet all or almost all of these candidates will be promoted. Moreover, those appointments will be permanent because there is no probationary period for the position of lieutenant.
Does New Haven have a right to highlight written exam performance over oral examinations, despite its alleged disparate impact towards African-Americans?
Click on the link below to read the full complaint.
Briscoe v. City of New Haven [Lawprofessors Blog]
Earlier: Breaking: SCOTUS Rules In Favor of New Haven Firefighters