Coursework Example: The Impact of the Ricci v. Destefano Ruling

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Wesleyan University
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Ricci v. Destefano refers to a labor case filed at the US Supreme Court by a group of eighteen firefighters for unlawful discrimination by the city of New Haven under the Civil Rights Act of 1963 (McConnell & Pierre, 2009). The firefighters claimed that the city of New Haven had unlawfully discriminated them due to their race when the city declined to promote them after deciding not to accept the results of a test due to the poor performance of the black candidates. In a split 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided that the decision of the city of New Haven to reject the results and failure to promote the white and Hispanic firefighters was a violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (The Washington Post, 2009). In the real sense, the Supreme Court should have had sufficient information before deciding this case.

The city claimed that after viewing such unnatural results, it was its obligation in adherence to Title VII for the Civil Rights Act to reassess the fairness of the test under the disparate impact provision to ensure that the test did not have any discriminatory effect upon the minorities. After holding a public hearing in which the white and black firefighters, test experts and other community leaders were allowed to air their views, the citys board annulled the test results (The Washington Post, 2009). It was at this stage when the firefighters who felt aggrieved by the citys board decided to sue.

The main effect of the ruling is that it created a new legal standard that makes it difficult for institutions to reject results of a flawed test under the Title VII provisions. The argument that New Haven had not met the standard, which was nonexistent at the time was unprecedented. The court also failed to transfer the case to trial court where the city wanted to justify its actions using the new standards.

The Ricci v. Destefano case illustrates two different theories arising from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the disparity between disparate treatment and disparate impact. Disparate treatment occurs when individuals are discriminated intentionally due to race or other factors. Disparate impact is represented by utilizing practices that unintentionally discriminate against minorities. Business practices that demonstrate disparate impact are a violation of the Title VII unless the business shows that the practice is job-related, necessary and has no viable alternative.

The ruling creates an avenue for racial discrimination. Businesses can utilize flawed tests which are engineered to be disadvantageous to people of certain races. When the city of New Haven realized that they had utilized a flawed test in their recruitment, they took appropriate steps to correct the mistake (West-Faulcon, 2009). However, their efforts were thwarted by the Supreme Court. This led to the hiring of people who lacked the sufficient capability to lead the firemen.

It is important for tests to cater for the necessary skills required to perform a certain task. The company that prepared the New Haven test acknowledged that the test did not assess whether a firefighter had sufficient skills to lead other firefighters on duty. The ruling removes eliminated the necessity of examiners to set tests that are appropriate to the task to be performed. This may lead to substandard exams whose legitimacy is questionable.

The people to be assessed may not be well prepared as they may feel that the test is not a true reflection of their ability to perform specific tasks. However, some other people who are to be assessed may be motivated by the finality of their results. Guaranteeing the finality of the result ensures that people are well prepared for the tests. This, in turn, may lead to hiring people who are good at test-taking rather than at performing the task given.



McConnell, J., & Pierre, L. (2009). Ricci v. DeStefano (07-1428); Ricci v. DeStefano (08-328). LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved October 2, 2017 from

The Washington Post. (2009). The supreme court rules in the new haven firefighters case. Retrieved October 2, 2017 from

West-Faulcon, K. (2009). Ricci vs. DeStefano: A test on race. Retrieved October 2,2017 from


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