NPR logo Supreme Court Ruling Lifts Black Chicago Firefighters


Supreme Court Ruling Lifts Black Chicago Firefighters

A group of black Chicago firefighters found themselves on the winning side of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the high court overruled an appeals court, deciding that the firefighters had the right to sue Chicago on charges that a promotion exam discriminated against them.

In an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court rejected Chicago's claim that the firefighters missed the deadline to file their claim under federal discrimination laws.

The question essentially came down to the technical matter of whether a clock applied. The city argued the firefighters had so many days to file their claim after it adopted the promotion practice later claimed as discriminatory.

The firefighters contended that the nature of their claim that a disparate impact occurred because the way the city used an 89 percent test score as a cutoff resulted in black firefighters being disproportionately affected meant the "clock" didn't apply under the law.

The court agreed with the firefighters unanimously with Justice Antonin Scalia writing the opinion and sent the case back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for rehearing.

The high court didn't rule on the merits of the discrimination claim, making the case substantially different than the New Haven firefighters case of last year.

In that case the court, in a five to four decision, ruled that city had discriminated against white firefighters by rejecting the results of a promotion exam because not enough blacks had done well enough for advancement and the city feared discrimination lawsuits.