Supreme Court Says Black Firefighter Lawsuit Can Proceed

Firefighter candidates in Chicago say a discriminatory application process kept them from getting hired.

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Firefighter candidates in Chicago say a discriminatory application process kept them from getting hired.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that a group of African Americans may sue the city of Chicago on their claim that the city's discriminatory use of an application test kept them from being hired as firefighters.

The justices rejected the city's argument that the class of 6,000 black applicants had waited too long to bring the suit. Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said each time the city used the test results to hire firefighters over the next six years represented a new chance for the denied applicants to bring their suit.

"Under the city's reading, if an employer adopts an unlawful practice and no timely charge is brought, it can continue using the practice indefinitely, with impunity, despite ongoing disparate impact" on minorities, Scalia wrote.

Federal law forbids employers from using an employment practice that "causes a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin," even if there is no discriminatory intent. The only exception is if the employer can show the practice is job-related and "consistent with business necessity."