Civil Rights

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Black Firefighters

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a group of African Americans claiming an application test stopped them from being hired as firefighters could sue the city of Chicago. The 6,000 black applicants allege the test was discriminatory in that it caused “a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The city gave a firefighter test to 26,000 applicants, a pool that was 45 percent white and 37 percent black. A score of 65 on the test would make the applicant “qualified,” though with the large number of qualified applicants, the city split the group by adding a “well-qualified” category for scores of 89 or better. For years, the city hired only those from the “well-qualified” group, which was racially skewed—76 percent were white and 11.5 percent were black. A federal judge said the city’s 89 cutoff score was “statistically meaningless,” and that no evidence showed higher scores equated to better applicants.