April 28th, 2009
03:44 PM ET

High court asked to untangle reverse discrimination case

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/22/scotus.reverse.discrimination/art.scotus.exterior.gi.jpg]
Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

The Supreme Court's conservative majority expressed varying degrees of concern Wednesday over a civil rights case brought by 20 firefighters, most of them white, who claim reverse discrimination in promotions.

The suit was filed in response to New Haven, Connecticut, officials' decision to throw out results of promotional exams that they said left too few minorities qualified.

At issue is whether the city intentionally discriminated, in violation of both federal law and the Constitution's equal protection clause.

The high court is being asked to decide whether there is a continued need for special treatment for minorities, or whether enough progress has been made to make existing laws obsolete, especially in a political atmosphere where an African-American occupies the White House.

As is true in many hot-button social issues, Wednesday's arguments fell along familiar ideological lines, with most justices expressing clear views on when race considerations are proper to ensure a diverse workplace.


Filed under: 360º Follow • Race in America • Supreme Court
soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. Pamela

    Equal OPPORTUNITY should be the criterion. Equal results are unlikely. Why bother with a test if the promotions are not based on performance?

    April 29, 2009 at 2:24 am |
  2. Todd Mather

    Regarding the fire fighters, promote those with the best test results, lives may depend on this-end of story.

    April 29, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  3. Checkmate!!

    Also along with other biased STANDARDIZED TEST minorities are AUTOMATICALLY put at a DISADVANTAGE and predicted lower scores due to the lack of consistent exposure to the material. For example, the same reason why minorities doesnt score no where close to majority (white americans) when taking the SAT. White Americans are exposed to the academic material daily. Minorites schools system stinks because there is no funding to support their academic progress. Let alone expecting them to pass tests. Most schools in minority communities students dont even take books home because there arent enough books for all of them. So how are they expected to learn and hold on to information???? White schools usually fully funded computers and all.

    April 29, 2009 at 2:13 am |
  4. Rhonda

    I do believe that this is a test of test, a wakeup call. Will this end the discrimination, no. I wholeheartedly agree that if they did pass the test that they should be promoted. Heather, wake up to the world of discrimination, you just learn to move on, as I have. It is wrong.

    April 29, 2009 at 2:06 am |
  5. Checkmate!!

    There is NO such thing as REVERSE DISCRIMINATION!!! First of all THANK YOU Sir for acknowledging that Minorities ARE DISCRIMINATED against by calling it REVERSE, which means you are ONLY getting A LITTLE taste Sir of what minorities has been going through for hundreds of years. Your argument Sir is that they just want to hire minorities in Supervisor Positions. Well Sir how I dont think you can imagine how many jobs minorities didn't get because of DISCRIMINATION. You're talking about a promotion! Minorities DONT get JOBS!!!! I do feel where you are coming from and even your argument. But SORRY YOU CANT BE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST. IT'S NOT POSSIBLE. PLEASE RESEARCH PHILLIP HALLIE'S THEORIES OF SUBSTANTIAL CRUELTY. Hallie will answer alot of questions on why WHITE AMERICANS CANNOT BE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST. I would love to debate this fact!!!

    April 29, 2009 at 2:03 am |
  6. Kerry

    Until we fix our school systems across this country and give the same level of education to a child from what's called the Hood that a child that lives in Beverly Hills has access to , we should grade everything on a curve even promotions at the work places were test results determine the the results..

    April 29, 2009 at 1:53 am |
  7. Peter TX

    ok, this the most ridiculous thing i have heard today, i am black but i am sick and tired of black folks wanting sub-standards just because they are black. if a black dude can't pass the test he should did his butt down and read and stop embarrassing us(blacks) in the name of fairness

    April 29, 2009 at 1:40 am |
  8. John Artist

    I don't think race should have anything to do with who gets promoted, test scores don't lie and a leader needs to be chosen through knowledge and experience. Not because there aren't enough minorities as leaders..

    April 29, 2009 at 1:38 am |
  9. Mike Tubbs, Grand Ronde, Oregon.

    I'd said that I was white, and supposedly, when it comes to taking a test..."My opinion wouldn't count"

    Am I right?

    April 29, 2009 at 1:33 am |
  10. Valerie, Syracuse, NY

    I guess if you are a white American, smart and qualify , then you are penalized. Maybe its time for the whites to start to be more vocal for their rights!!!

    April 29, 2009 at 1:06 am |
  11. cheryl

    In my opinion, because we are very diverse country this is a subject that will be critical to our success in competing with other nations of the world. We have got to find a way to take full and complete advantage of our diversity. That does not mean promoting someone because of their skin color or ethnic background, but at the same time we should not fool ourselves into believing that test results that produce only one type of candidate (i.e all black, white or yellow) is not somehow an indication of systemic bias.

    Unless you believe that one group of people is superior to another in intellect and/or work ethic, there is no way to explain large disparites in hiring, promotion or test results except for some type of individual or systemic racial preference. Neither one of these answers will allow the USA to reach it full potential and properly engaging all of its citizens.

    April 29, 2009 at 12:30 am |
  12. Ron Wacker

    I would like to see the test to be able to determine for myself what is biased and what is not. As this will probably not be possible, it would be good to have a definitive explanation of what in that particluar test was deemed discriminatory.

    If there is anything discriminatory in the test, then one should logically ask :Why was it written that way" and why was it not caught before the test was given?

    April 29, 2009 at 12:14 am |

    This happens fequently in the wildland firefighting community. A few years back I applied to a job with a federal agency. I got an email back saying I was highly quallified for the job. I later had an interview. I came out of the interview fairly confident. In a follow up I was unofficially offered the job, I took it. That was the last I heard from them. I called a few months later and asked why I hadn't heard back from them. They were short with me and told me to look closely into my record with the federal government. So I did, I found nothing. I applied for another job at the same office in their fire program. I soon met the individual that got the job that I did not. I decided to keep quiet about the job that I didn't get. Over some beers one night the individual started bragging to me about how she got the job over someone who was fully qualified. She bragged to me about the fact she wasn't qualified for the job and when she showed up on her first day they made her supervisor sign the taskbooks that would qualify her for the job. The computer program that this federal agencey uses is suppose to weed out these canidates. I never said anything or raised a stink over it. Two years later I became that indiviuals supervisor and found out that when I applied to her job my name was sent into the state office for the position. It was returned and they told the hiring panel to hire the other individual on the list (only 2 of use were on the list). It took me 4 years but yes reverse descrimination does happen and it happened to me. I'm not sour about what happened to me. Actually, not getting the job happened to be better for my career. It would have just slowed my upward progress in my career as a wildland firefighter. Just wanted to share my story.

    April 29, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  14. J, nj

    This is one piece of the pie that is occurring to our country. When good intentions go to far. I sat in classrooms with "minorities" in the 1970' we had equal opportunity of secondary education, but when it came to higher education I had to work for it while my friend who was of different race had financial and educational opportunity because of her race. College board – why is it you can check for historical black institution but not of other race – though you are seeing more of the "Latino/spanish" merging into minorities – if it was any other race/ethnicity – the media and politically correct would be screaming. Over the years I have witness the emergence of more hate because of the over compensation to make things "right" as seen by a political group of the in group! Their are many educational opportunity for firefighters to achieve more knowledge and personally strive for it regardless of race. So once you have a firefighter taking a test for a higher leadership level – the test is design to assess ability not the percentage of race/ethnic background of the community to make sure its reflected in the department. If this was black firefighters would it be over more local channels – Equal opportunity is dying in this country

    April 29, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  15. Tim

    We need an example of the questions that were considered racial. I don't believe that there is such a thing as a white or black question. And if this is the case than every none black person should sue someone during black history month if they receive a falling grade on a test. I do not think that would be right so I don’t think that one can say a test for a job is raciest.

    April 29, 2009 at 12:02 am |
  16. John

    It's very simple. It's a skills test based on book knowledge and knowledge of the position you're testing for. If you don't study you don't pass, if you don't pass you don't get promoted. To punish the poeple who put the work in because others didn't is dispicable. It just goes to show how twisted all this really is. By holding up these promotions it affects pay, longevity, and retirement benifits. It isn't enough these guys spend time away from their families at night and on holidays to protect the people who have this little respect for them.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  17. patt

    this may be naive/stupid, but (since this even got to this point) why can't the tests be given w/ no name association – meaning each test is randomly associated/distributed w/ a number (like a lottery ticket stub) – then graded – grades posted by number – eliminating human intervention and promotions are based on merit? its unreal we have even gotten to this point – I remember the concept of common sense – as americans, not race. what a crazy world.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  18. Emad H

    Something else is going on here, once again, the politician are playing games.

    CNN reported 21 people passed the exam, 16 whites, 2 Hispanics and 3 blacks. That means 14% of blacks passed and about 11% Hispanic did also well in line with the population as a whole. So they could have promoted one of each and all would have been good.

    I do not see where race has anything to do with this story. Yes we have racist among us and yes it goes both ways, just look at our history and you will clearly see those who want to make things better and those who want to cling onto power at any cost!!!

    I could see where the city could have tossed the test out for another reason, but I do not believe that 1 test makes you a good fire fighter, at least I hope not, you ability to climb a ladder, you expertise about fire, your shape, etc.....

    April 28, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  19. Vanessa, Long Island NY

    I think that for test or to get a job, the application should have a number or other ways to identified a human being. Etnicity should not even be part of an application to get a job. Is the candidate qualify? who put the most effort studying ? etc. etc... That happend to my husband a few years back, he study really hard and didn't spend any quality time with his family to get a civil service job. He got a higher score then someone that got hired with a very low score, but the other candidate was a minority. We fought it and he got the job. I'm a minority on the applications myself and I don't think I should get any special treatment. I'm a proud citizen of this Nation but they have to bring applications up to date.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  20. jim mclaughlin

    Well well well...this is so much to do about absolutely nothing.

    When we all take tests, since the 1st grade, we either pass or fail based on how well we prepare for them and how smart we are.

    If you keep changing the finish line because some of the competition can't run...then most of us would recommend that you either tell the bad runners to get out of the race or start working out and get faster...maybe next year.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  21. Jimmy Bain

    The results should stand. If you can't pass the test then you are not qualified regardless of ethnicity. Reverse discrimination is as big a problem as minority discrimination ever has been. Give the people the job that has proven their dedication through their own hard work and commitment to further their education. These are the people we want in charge when things go terribly wrong.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  22. Sue B - Schaumburg, Il

    Anderson, White Americans have been given special privileges for over 400 years. They have gotten jobs based on their skin and not their qualifications. Now as soon as an African American gets a position that Whites feel should be theirs, they want to cry discrimination. Perhaps for once in this racist country African Americans are getting their just reward and White Americans are reaping what they have sown for over 400 years of evil discrimination based on race/skin. It's ashame that now they they are starting to feel the ills of what African Americans have dealt with and still deal with, they want to cry discrimination. Of all my years I have seen many qualified African Americans passed over for jobs because of their skin... so, not to sound hateful, but perhaps this is just karma for the race that created racism. You never know how a person feels until you walk in their shoes....so I say, the White Firefighters, can now walk in African American shoes.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  23. Jake

    Humans are the ONLY living species that force themselves to associate with other breeds, different than are own.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:48 pm |
  24. Michael Haycraft

    Why don't they only have a number on the test in which you tear off the number and take the test and you don' t put Name, sex, race or any identifying data. When the tests are scored they post the number of the top score. That person gets the job. No way to discrimanate.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  25. Lisa-Barbados

    When does it become discrimination? When the test is designed so blacks will do better? The results may be an indication that some persons are better qualified than others. If the criteria is academia as well as character, leadership skills and the like, then it is fair.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  26. Matty

    Like many government initiatives, affirmative action was probably started with the best intentions to equalize the hiring criteria of particular professions. However, over time it seems that those in charge of those programs have taken it upon themselves to change the system to advance purely minority candidates. Probably in some failed attempt at retroactively fixing the hiring problem, rather than letting time take its place.
    I congratulate the people behind this case because test score padding based on race will catch up with society. You will have unqualified people with a sense of false entitlement making poor choices. It has been done with the LSAT and SAT standardized tests. Can't wait to see the repercussions of that...

    April 28, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  27. Jake

    Reverse Discrimination DOES exist and has been overlooked for quite some time. We should all look at the facts and question whether it is happening in your area, like it is mine.
    In the US Coast Guard, it is almost impossible for a Caucasion to be considered for OCS (officer candidate school), where as a minority is almost certain to be accepted, I learned of this while I applied and was told flat-out by the Coast Guard recruiter.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:43 pm |
  28. Chris

    Regardless of race they should hire the best qualified candidate. But the rub here is in todays economic circumstances they should just be lucky to have a job!

    April 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  29. Jesus

    Born and raised in California let me tell you that many of us Mexican-Americans know how much racism there is in the California Fire departments, You can go to many cities in California that are mostly hispanic and you will find that 90% of the firefighters are caucasian, the percentage of Black and Latinos as fire fighters are insanely low, we know the whites are not going to start employing minorities in the fire departments, There are minorities in fire departments in california but really almost none, you think the south is bad you dont know about California.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  30. BigGrip

    Everything is always about trying to keep the black people happy so they don't sue everyone and bring in the Al Sharpton pit bulls. C'mon, people, this is real simple. Reverse discrimination = Discrimination. This whole case is a no brainer. Let the smart people advance.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:40 pm |
  31. Nathan

    In many areas, white Americans are admitted to schools over Asian Americans, even with lower test scores. I don't hear anyone complaining.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:40 pm |
  32. John

    You should see the "affirmative action" take place in the health care community. Minorities (non-white) are allowed into nursing, anesthesia, medical school, etc with much much lower test scores and special treatments not offered to white students. i.e. special tutoring session, free equipment (lab coats, books, etc, etc), and the list goes on and on.... Affirmative action should be abolished in this day and age!!

    April 28, 2009 at 11:40 pm |
  33. Tina

    As a membe of Civil Service my opinion is that race needs to be taken out of the hiring and promotion process.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  34. Sarah

    What makes the first test for promotion discriminatory for minorities? If I were black, I would be offended that people would assume that I couldn't pass the same test as a white person. Doesn't anyone see it that way?

    April 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  35. KT

    This is absolutely discrimination – when the most qualified person is not selected. When someone is selected based on race, then that is a violation of the discrimination laws. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  36. robert

    I can understand why the fire fighter would be mad that his test didn't count but at the same time they didnt promote any of the black or spanish people that passed the test now if they did promote them then I can see why you would be really upset

    April 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  37. Jonathan

    I would love to know on what grounds the courts ruled with the city. There has to be a better way...


    April 28, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  38. Mark, Indianapolis

    Can't say it any better than Chief Justice Roberts: "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

    April 28, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  39. Tim

    Lets ask a question here, would anyone want a less qualified person who was'nt able to pass a test or did'nt score high enough in charge of a group of people in the business of saving lives and property? I know i would'nt, this is'nt a place for less qualified people to be moved through the ranks due to skin color. my feeling is you study for a test,you pass a test, you get promoted, its that simple.
    I wish the best of luck to the 20 men involved in this case you all should keep your heads held high.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:31 pm |
  40. Rocky

    Why are they using the term “Reverse Discrimination?” Are they saying that blacks are the only ones who should be discriminated against, not whites? Discrimination is discrimination no matter what race you are.


    April 28, 2009 at 11:17 pm |
  41. Orrin Hawkins

    The affirmative action for civil service jobs to accomodate those who has been denied their American pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
    This character did not protest when his race was given the same jobs because of preference treatment. He and his kind has had 400 years or more to excel. So he has nothing to complain about

    April 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  42. Jorgen

    I hope the medical schools in this country are not following the Boston Fire Dept.'s example 'to throw out the highest test' scores for admittance.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:10 pm |
  43. Neil, USA

    I think it's high time that affirmative action be done away with! If people really want to compete on a level playing field then that's what we should do. I can only imagine how pleased all the Negroes would be if all of the sudden Mexicans were treated "more fairly" than blacks. And as far as throwing money at a problem goes, then explain to me why all of the black housing projects all over the country aren't spontaneously generating doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc.! After all, don't minorities get into college with more financial help and lower entrance requirements than some other people? I think the way our society is skewed to favor minorities has become more than ridiculous. If no race is superior, why all the inequality?

    April 28, 2009 at 11:09 pm |
  44. Joanna

    I understand that affirmative action has been and may still be necessary in many careers in our country. In this case, you're talking about promoting people to save our lives (and the lives of those we love) based on something other than skill. It is ridiculous to put our lives in the hands of someone other than the best qualified person. My husband is a firefigher / paramedic and is expected to perform to the best of his ability to save lives. If he (or anyone else within a department) doesn't get a promotion that he deserves because of his race, then only those who created these rules are to blame, if someone dies because the most qualified person wasn't responding to that desperate call for help. This isn't a business we're talking about if it's someone you know who is involved! The person most qualifed should absolutely be the person responding if I should ever need to make that call to 911! I think every department throughout the nation should be expected to promote based on nothing other than who is best qualified to perform the duties required of the job. If any other politics are involved, then we're all to blame for not demanding that our lives are worth more than their politics! It's bad enough that we're not all complaining about how much money our individual cities and counties are taking away from firefighters and their families with all the budget cuts in today's economy. We can't sit and watch unqualified people be promoted to respond to our calls for help. If it is all about what you look like, who you know, or where you come from, how will we be able to separate those who work hard for what they earn and those who are handed everything without any need to try harder. What lesson will that teach any of our youth? I have an older neighbor who loves to talk about the "good old days" when people had to work for a living. I'm starting to understand, and I'm far from old! May the best man or woman be on that truck, if I should ever need to make that call...............

    April 28, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  45. Captain minority

    I have been in the fire service for 15 plus years and I have been a Captain the last 4 plus years. I took a test did rather well was ranked in the top five out of twenty five. The test consisted of a written 40% of the total overall grade and 60% for an assessment center. The assessment test is a scenario based evaluation. It consists of teaching/ presentation, an employee counseling or citizen complaint, and the final component being a fire scenario where the candidate takes command of a fire scene and demonstrates their skills, knowledge and abilities. During all three components of the test which are about 20 to 30 minutes in duration they are evaluated by three evaluators who are of equal rank or above and most always are from other Departments.

    In preparing for my Battalion Chiefs test next month I wouldn't have it any other way on how the test are administered. Anybody can open a book and do well on written , but an assessment center it paints a picture of how well your critical thinking is in a crunch.

    Being a hispanic male sure I have had some discrimination against me in my lifetime, but it never kept me down. I dont believe in handouts. I sure hope somebody wakes up an realizes the wrong in this turn all they way to left. Good Luck my fellow brothers and sisters and most all be safe!

    April 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm |
  46. J, Greenwood, VA

    The test afforded equal opportunity for all to qualify for promotion.
    It did not guarantee equal outcome by race.This is not reverse
    discrimination, but rather just plain discrimination. When I was
    growing up, I saw the same thing happen when white Catholic
    policemen scored higher than white Protestant policemen. My
    home town simply ignored the test results. My uncle was denied
    promotion to lieutenant for years based on his religion.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  47. Hamill

    I am an American Indian with a graduate education and really good job. As a minority, I have always resented anyone thinking they had to make tests easier for me to succeed. Politicians and special interest groups might as well tell minorities that they are "too dumb" when they alter tests to accommodate people of color. I worked hard for what I've got !!! I'm proud of it because no one gave me any special breaks!!!

    April 28, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  48. Tee

    To think that a test is geared for a certain group is not so crazy, after all nearly every standardized test has been questioned, or proven to cater to a particular race. Lets face it, We have to redo our testing standards in this country and in doing so some people will hurt even some unsuspected social segments,but in the end it will all work out for the better.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  49. Gaylord,Houston,Texas

    For some reason any test given, whites always tend to do much better than Blacks or Hispanics.I hear this all the time here in Houston.However given that fact, then why aren't the test made up in a more objective way for all people taken the test or are they???I guess that is the question.The bottom line is whom ever does the best in the test gets the promotion.Are there other considerations for these top positions??Is it a standard test that anyone can study for in preparation for taken this test?? If thats the case then why would anyone complain???I also agree that everyone needs to be held to a high standard of excellence to receive these top promotions but I also feel there should be other considerations that should be included to hold one of these top jobs.The top brass in any company should reflect the same mix of what makes up that department .

    April 28, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  50. Jim

    Larry, affirmative action is discrimination. It's a no-brainer. If a white guy scores the highest on a test and demonstrates that he is the most qualified for a certain position but is denied that position because of the color of his skin, he is being discriminated against.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
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