TO GET AHEAD -- MAKE SURE AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN DOES BETTER THAN YOU

June 29, 2009

It has made its way through the courts and now a simple test that would have allow eighteen firefighters to advance to the rank of lieutenant is the focal point of one of the most hotly contested Civil Rights Cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling is expected today (Monday).

Here is the origin of the case: Frank Ricci had been a firefighter in New Haven, Connecticut for 11 years, and he would do just about anything to advance to lieutenant.

The last time the city offered a promotional exam, he said in a sworn statement, he gave up a second job and studied up to 13 hours a day. Mr. Ricci, who is dyslexic, paid an acquaintance more than $1,000 to read textbooks onto audiotapes. He made flashcards, took practice tests, worked with a study group and participated in mock interviews.

Mr. Ricci did well, he said, coming in sixth among the 77 candidates who took the exam. But the city threw out the test, because none of the 19 African-American firefighters who took it qualified for promotion. That decision prompted Mr. Ricci and 17 other white firefighters, including one Hispanic, to sue the city, alleging racial discrimination.

Their case, which was argued before the Roberts Supreme Court on April 22, is the Roberts court’s first major confrontation with claims of racial discrimination in employment and will require the justices to choose between conflicting conceptions of the government’s role in ensuring fair treatment regardless of race.

Besides affecting how race can be considered in filling government and perhaps even private jobs, the dispute also addresses broader questions about racial progress: Do minorities and women still need legal protection from discrimination, or do the monumental civil rights laws that created a more equal nation now cause more harm than good?

Also, beneath the specific details of the firefighters' lawsuit lies an uncomfortable truth: On most standardized tests, regardless of the subject, blacks score lower than whites.

New Haven's population is 44 percent white, 36 percent black and 24 percent Hispanic (who can be any race). At the time of the 2003 test, 53 percent of the city's firefighters, 63 percent of lieutenants and 86 percent of captains were white. Blacks were 30 percent of the firefighters, 22 percent of lieutenants and 4 percent of captains.

The promotion exams were closely focused on firefighting methods, knowledge and skills. The first part had 200 multiple-choice questions and counted for 60 percent of the final score. Candidates returned another day to take an oral exam in which they described responses to various scenarios, which counted for 40 percent.

One hundred and eighteen people took the tests; 56 passed. Nineteen of the top scorers were eligible for promotion to 15 open lieutenant and captain positions. Based on the test results, the city said that no minorities would have been eligible for lieutenant, and two Hispanics would have been eligible for captain.

The plaintiffs say the exams were designed by a professional testing firm that followed federal guidelines for mitigating disparate racial outcomes.

But after the results came back, the city says it found evidence that the tests were potentially flawed.  According to a brief filed by officers of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology sources of bias included that the written section measured memorization rather than actual skills needed for the jobs; giving too much weight to the written section; and lack of testing for leadership in emergency conditions.

Karen Torre, the attorney for the white firefighters argued that discarding a test because no minorities would have been promoted violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination because of race.

Call it a legal riddle only the Supreme Court could solve: The white firefighters say Title VII prohibits discrimination against them for being white; New Haven says Title VII prohibits it from using a test that has a disparate impact against blacks.

Regardless of who wins in this case, the final analysis of this suit is simply one of whether there is a such thing as reverse-discrimination. This is to ask the question of whether it is possible, and lawful, to discriminate against whites?  As Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor would say: "YES! It Is!"  After all, this was her reasoning when she sided with New Haven when the case went to the Appellate Court on which she currently sits.

Score another point for the dumbing down of America for the sake of preferential treatment.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.