Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

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Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby The Reaper » Mon Jun 29, 2009 7:39 pm UTC

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 08_pf.html

High Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit
Ruling Reverses High-Profile Decision by Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 29, 2009 12:07 PM

The Supreme Court today narrowly ruled in favor of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who said they were denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision by Judge Sonia Sotomayor and others that had come to play a large role in the consideration of her nomination for the high court.

The city had thrown out the results of a promotion test because no African Americans and only two Hispanics would have qualified for promotions. It said it feared a lawsuit from minorities under federal laws that said such "disparate impacts" on test results could be used to show discrimination.

In effect, the court was deciding when avoiding potential discrimination against one group amounted to actual discrimination against another.

The court's conservative majority said in a 5 to 4 vote that is what happened in New Haven.

"Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions," wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the liberals on the court and said the decision knocks the pegs from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

She read her dissent from the bench for emphasis. "Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form," she said. "The damage today's decision does to that objective is untold."

On the last day on the bench for retiring Justice David H. Souter, the court failed to reach a decision on one of its most important cases of the term: whether a conservative group's production of a 90-minute film on Hillary Rodham Clinton amounted to a documentary, or merely a long commercial of the type restricted by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act.

Instead, the court took the unusual action of scheduling new arguments on the case for Sept. 9, before the court's new term begins next October. The court wants new briefings on issues that could lead to the justices declaring unconstitutional that part of the act, formally called the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.

The court's decision probably will lead Democrats to push efforts to have a vote on Sotomayor's confirmation so she can be in place before the September hearing, although it is unclear whether her replacement of Souter would affect the outcome of the case.

Senate hearings on her nomination are set to begin in two weeks.

The New Haven case, Ricci v. DeStefano, has become the ruling that Sotomayor's critics most point to for evidence that she lets her background influence her decisions, even though her role has been somewhat inflated.

The promotion test results produced a heated debate in New Haven, and government lawyers warned the city's civil service board that if it certified the test results, minority firefighters might have a good case for claiming discrimination under Title VII. Federal guidelines presume discrimination when a test has such a disparate impact on minorities.

The board split 2 to 2, which meant the exam was not certified. Those who opposed using the results said they worried the test must be flawed in some way that disadvantaged minorities. (The test questions have not been made public.)

The white firefighters filed suit, saying their rights had been violated under both the law and the Constitution's protections of due process.

District Judge Janet Bond Arterton dismissed their suit before it went to trial. She said in her 47-page decision that the city was justified under the law in junking the test, even if it could not explain its flaws.

The case then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, where Sotomayor and judges Robert Sack and Rosemary S. Pooler heard the appeal. Oral arguments lasted an hour, with Sotomayor leading the questioning, as is her reputation. But instead of issuing a detailed and signed opinion, the panel said in a brief summary that, although it was "not unsympathetic" to the plight of the white firefighters, it unanimously affirmed the lower court's decision for "reasons stated in the thorough, thoughtful, and well-reasoned opinion."

Kennedy's opinion referred to the judgment of Sotomayor and the other judges only by noting the short opinion.

Kennedy said the standard for whether an employer may discard a test is whether there is a strong reason to the employer to believe that the test is flawed in a way that discriminates against minorities, not just by looking at the results.

In New Haven's case, "there is no evidence -- let alone the required strong basis in evidence -- that the tests were flawed because they were not job-related or because other, equally valid and less discriminatory tests were available to the city," Kennedy wrote.

The case has drawn considerable attention not just because of Sotomayor's role but because of the sympathetic nature of the claim brought by the firefighters, who said they were discriminated against simply because of the color of their skin.

The lead plaintiff, Frank Ricci, is a veteran firefighter who said in sworn statements that he spent thousands of dollars in preparation and studied for months for the exam. Ricci said he is dyslexic, so he had tapes made of the test materials and listened to them on his commute to work.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Vaniver » Mon Jun 29, 2009 7:47 pm UTC

She read her dissent from the bench for emphasis. "Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form," she said. "The damage today's decision does to that objective is untold."
The Civil Rights Act was all about letting people play the race card, not about giving people equal opportunity? Nice to know, Ginsburg.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby athelas » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:04 pm UTC

Hmm, so Kennedy says, in effect, you just can't do what Mayor DeStefano did to Frank Ricci -- yank the rug out from under him after he took the test because you didn't like the racial results -- at least not without a "strong-basis-in-evidence" that you'd lose a minority plaintiff's disparate impact discrimination lawsuit. And if the facts resemble the facts in New Haven, Kennedy announces, then this here Supreme Court says you won't lose that lawsuit; so don't throw Ricci's test results out. Capisce? (Warning: This here Supreme Court likely to be replaced by a more Obamaesque Supreme Court in not-too-distant future.)

The real question is why this modest and perfectly reasonable response to an egregious injustice was merely 5-4 rather than 9-0? Still, I can see how Ginsburg could be sore about this. Kennedy is being ingenuous by reading the 1991 Civil Rights Act naively. After all, the Democratic majority that passed the 1991 Civil Rights Act enshrining Griggs' disparate impact theory may have "declaimed" racial preferences in public, but the whole point of the legislation was to provide racial preferences by tipping the balance between Type I and Type II errors in favor of legally preferred groups.

Given that this is a reversal of Sotomayor's strenuous opinion upholding New Haven, it would be interesting to see if the GOP has the balls to grill the Wise Latina Woman on an issue when she is clearly holds a minority opinion to the rest of the country, but I doubt they will. It would look bad. But maybe they'll call Mayor DeStefano as a witness to beat up on him over the injustice he personally did to Frank Ricci, an injustice upheld, fortunately only temporarily, by Judge Sotomayor. If they are too sensitive to ask tough questions of the Wise Latina, they can ask them of the not so wise white guy.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby General_Norris » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:17 pm UTC

Meh, here in Spain it's worse. As tehre were few female firefighter they made an easier test for girls. Now that test means there are people who can't drag their coworkers when fighting a fire if they are injured. Way to go.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby e946 » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:20 pm UTC

My favorite part was your comments on the article. They were very insightful.

For an actual contribution, I must really have the events wrong here if people are calling this a 25-year setback. What I remember is:
-City puts out a test for promotions
-A bunch of people apply, but the only people that do well enough to be promoted are white
-City cancels test results and promoted nobody

Two important questions remain unanswered though: How many black people applied, versus how many white people? And has this test ever been used before, and if so, were the results as unbalanced?

How right the supreme court decision is depends heavily on the answers to those questions; And even then, at the end day there's no denying the fact that, as white as they may be, the top scorers on the test probably worked their asses off in order to get those top scores. Cancelling the test results would effectively be bringing everybody down to the lowest in the group in order to acheive fairness.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Vaniver » Mon Jun 29, 2009 9:14 pm UTC

e946 wrote:Two important questions remain unanswered though: How many black people applied, versus how many white people? And has this test ever been used before, and if so, were the results as unbalanced?
The burden of proof should be on the claim that the test was imbalanced- and there were no credible reasons to believe so. There were reasons to suggest it (it was multiple choice), but that's far from proof.

If you look into the history of the people involved (specifically, the guy who threatened the lawsuit), you'll see how ugly this particular incident was.

Which is why, as athelas points out, the 5-4 ruling is worrying.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:52 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
e946 wrote:Two important questions remain unanswered though: How many black people applied, versus how many white people? And has this test ever been used before, and if so, were the results as unbalanced?
The burden of proof should be on the claim that the test was imbalanced- and there were no credible reasons to believe so. There were reasons to suggest it (it was multiple choice), but that's far from proof.

If you look into the history of the people involved (specifically, the guy who threatened the lawsuit), you'll see how ugly this particular incident was.

Which is why, as athelas points out, the 5-4 ruling is worrying.

Yeah, it'd be a completely different matter in my mind if they actually had a reason to believe the test was unfair, but they've never even presented any reason why it is other than on one occasion minorities didn't do well without any other justification.

It's like a grad school that gets 5 great applicants that meet the entrance requirements and one that doesn't, but the one that doesn't happens to be a minority so we're going to completely rewrite the basic requirements for admittance despite the fact that there was no racial bias in the basic requirements.

But fear of a lawsuit as justification? That's wishy-washy bullshit. Let them file the lawsuit if they thought the test was unfair. At least then we'd get to see a reason why the test is believed to be unfair.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Silas » Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:03 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:But fear of a lawsuit as justification? That's wishy-washy bullshit. Let them file the lawsuit if they thought the test was unfair. At least then we'd get to see a reason why the test is believed to be unfair.

That's a terrible policy. We shouldn't do something we think we'd lose a lawsuit over, because it's somebody else's responsibility to call us on it? The problem wasn't with New Haven's legal theory, it was that they didn't have the facts to support it.

If they could have shown that there was a sincere and reasonable fear that a title VII claim would succeeded in court, the city's justification for dumping the test results would have been fine. But the underlying fact just wasn't there.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:17 am UTC

Silas wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:But fear of a lawsuit as justification? That's wishy-washy bullshit. Let them file the lawsuit if they thought the test was unfair. At least then we'd get to see a reason why the test is believed to be unfair.

That's a terrible policy. We shouldn't do something we think we'd lose a lawsuit over, because it's somebody else's responsibility to call us on it? The problem wasn't with New Haven's legal theory, it was that they didn't have the facts to support it.

If they could have shown that there was a sincere and reasonable fear that a title VII claim would succeeded in court, the city's justification for dumping the test results would have been fine. But the underlying fact just wasn't there.

Yeah,sincere and reasonable, like a reason they thought the test was bias. To date I've yet to hear any justification of the test being bias.

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And now, the dissent

Postby athelas » Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:28 pm UTC

As I said earlier, the fact that four justices signed on to GInsubrg’s dissenting opinion fills me with both anger at liberals and worry that the liberal viewpoint will eventually triumph over reason and sensibility. Ginsburg writes, “The Court’s order and opinion, I anticipate, will not have staying power.” I translate this as meaning that Obama is going to be president for another seven and a half years, so the liberals are only one heart attack away from reversing Ricci and imposing their will. It’s an unusually unsportsmanlike statement and demonstrates a disrespect for stare decisis that’s unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice. When something like that shows up in a dissent, it indicates that the decision created a great deal of ill will.

Ginsburg criticizes the very notion of written tests:
Relying heavily on written tests to select fire officers is a questionable practice, to say the least. Successful fire officers, the City’s description of the position makes clear, must have the “[a]bility to lead personnel effectively, maintain discipline, promote harmony, exercise sound judgment, and cooperate with other officials.” CA2 App. A432.

We know that the real reason she dislikes written tests is because blacks perform poorly on them, but because she refuses to admit the real reason she dislikes them, she doesn’t need to explain why she thinks blacks perform poorly. (If you don’t believe my view of Ginsburg’s true motives, then try to imagine how she might have decided this case if the facts were the same except the races were reversed. After the city gave the test, too many blacks did well on the test, and white groups in the city complained that too many blacks were being promoted, and then the city threw out the results under the pretext of disparate impact. Does anyone seriously think that Ginsburg would agree with the city?)

I strongly disagree with the notion that written tests are a bad way to select fire officers. At an actual fire, the officer’s job is to direct the activities of the lower-ranked firefighters. Therefore, the officers must know a lot about firefighting practices so they can best direct the firefighters towards tasks which will minimize property damage and preserve human life. I would also say that intelligence is important for a fire officer, because the smarter officer would make smarter decisions during a fire. It seems to me that a firefighting officer is not the sort of managerial job in which the manager can just rely on the expertise of his underlings, but hey, I’m open to hearing from people who actually work as firefighters who might disagree with my assessment.

Ginsburg complains about the historic “failure on the part of municipal employers to apply merit-based employment principles. In making hiring and promotion decisions, public employers often relied on criteria unrelated to job performance, including nepotism or political patronage.” Dissent at p.3. It’s ironic that she mentions this, because it’s exactly for these reasons that civil service hiring and promotions are so often test based. An objectively graded test doesn’t care if the test taker donated money to the campaigns of the currently elected politicians, or paid kickbacks to get the job, or is a relative of a powerful person within the civil service. Ginsburg should be praising the fairness of an employment practice which promotes white Republicans in a city run by black and Hispanic Democrats.

Unfortunately, so long as the left insists on wrongly believing that disparate impact is always caused by racism, and that black job candidates are, on average, always as able as the white candidates, the matter will not be settled. If Democrats continue to hold the office of President until one of the five majority justices retires, then Ginsburg’s ominous prediction of the decision “not having staying power” will come true.

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Re: And now, the dissent

Postby Indon » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:08 pm UTC

So when a white-dominated union (who, btw, gives money to its' white members out of union dues to help the white members get promotions) runs a contract with a white-dominated company to promote firefighters based solely on a multiple-choice test, that's apparently not sufficient grounds to think something's up anymore.

Well, as a white male, at least it's good news for me personally. I'm a great test-taker, so if I ever want an officer job as a firefighter, I know New Haven's got me covered.

Because clearly firefighting is all about the book smarts, being the highly intellectual, white-collar job it is. Certainly it has nothing to do with fitness, leadership, psychological wellness and other facets of managerial jobs which other public service organizations such as the military attempt to track.

athelas wrote:I strongly disagree with the notion that written tests are a bad way to select fire officers.


Well, maybe if they use the paper as kindling to see how the firefighters react.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby BlackSails » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:10 pm UTC

Lets reverse this: Lets say that only black firefighters passed the test and the city decided to void it. Would that be ok with anyone?

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Indon » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:22 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:Lets reverse this: Lets say that only black firefighters passed the test and the city decided to void it. Would that be ok with anyone?

Would that test be about actual firefighting?

Disparate outcome is not illegal if the test is actually good. (Oh, wait, that's before this case)

Disparate outcome is not illegal if the test is actually good, or it happens to be bad and has a racist bias 'by accident'.

This judgment severely weakens the ability of civil rights laws to fight "accidental" procedural racism.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Garm » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:50 pm UTC

The sad thing is that this isn't really about race anymore yet everyone wants to make this a racial issue. This is about legal protectionism and something that a city did that was dumb. The court ruling essentially says that the city can't negate the results of the test based on fear of a lawsuit from minorities. Now everyone wants to ascribe broad legal precedent to this which, I imagine, will spiral out of control.

First, the Court ruled that the tests used for firefighter promotions in New Haven were legally valid. Second, it ruled that city officials there had failed to show that there were any alternative tests that could have had less of a negative impact on minority test-takers. Third, it ruled that the city had not shown that it had a genuine fear of being sued by minority firefighters if it gave most of the promotions off the 2003 tests to whites. And, fourth, it appeared to rule that, even if the city goes ahead and uses the test results to promote whites for most or all of any open slots, minority firefighters will have no legal complaint that they were victims of discrimination because the city can claim that it had to make promotions to avoid violating Title VII’s protection for the whites who scored best.


Source

As a raging liberal/progressive/leftist douche, I find this to be a pretty fair reading of the law. The reason it wasn't 9-0 wasn't some liberal plot to put whitey down but a vague disagreement on the rights of the city. There's some more analysis on Scotusblog which some of you might consider reading.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby e946 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:51 pm UTC

Indon wrote:This judgment severely weakens the ability of civil rights laws to fight "accidental" procedural racism.

The problem is that no actual evidence was brought forward showing that the test had a racial bias. We are thus faced with the choice of "accidental racial bias in a test" or "choose to screw over people who worked very hard and may even have been relying on and celebrating their good results on this test". Nether choice is good, but in my opinion, canceling the results without any evidence would set a worse precedent.

Athelas, i'm very liberal and I'm still lad this was ruled the way it did, so cut out the "if those damn liberals get their way" crap.

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Re: And now, the dissent

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Jun 30, 2009 11:21 pm UTC

Indon wrote:So when a white-dominated union (who, btw, gives money to its' white members out of union dues to help the white members get promotions) runs a contract with a white-dominated company to promote firefighters based solely on a multiple-choice test, that's apparently not sufficient grounds to think something's up anymore.

So the union doesn't give any money to the black members out of union dues to help black members get promoted? Because, if that's the case, shouldn't there have already been a lawsuit against the union? As for sufficient grounds, no, I don't. Just because something has a majority white doesn't mean it's actively racist. Otherwise, why don't we just break it down voting into an electoral college of race. It's only fair because the majority in this country is white and therefor, actively motivated to be racist.

I hardly find any reason to uphold your point of view that a group is actively racist just because one group is more represented. After all, if this was the case, somebody should have been able to point out some problems with the fucking test. It still stands that this company did a good job in creating the test to be fair.

By your reasoning we might as well throw out most every test in academia, ever.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Indon » Tue Jun 30, 2009 11:32 pm UTC

e946 wrote:The problem is that no actual evidence was brought forward showing that the test had a racial bias.

The city acted with the understanding that the test met the prima facie standard for filing a lawsuit under civil rights law. The court ruled that this was insufficient justification for the city to take action to address a possible problem (also that they were told they would be sued), and instead essentially set the evidenciary standard at the standard required for that potential lawsuit against the city to be found against them - that, essentially, the city had no right to fix what was obviously a broken system unless they were confident that a court itself would find it to be a broken system.

It renders the prima facie evidentiary standard in this case worthless, and it prevents private organizations from fixing problems with racism outside of the courtroom.

Jahoclave: It's firefighting, not some cubicle farm job. And the money given out was money to help fund the clearly racially partisan lawsuit, and the union was successfully sued - my objective was to point out the lack of impartiality behind what's going on.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby apeman5291 » Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:39 am UTC

What should have happened in this situation is for the test to be given to a wider sample of firefighters from different cities. If it can then be statistically shown that black firefighters are inherently disadvantaged by this test it should be thrown out. The fact that the city's decision to throw out the test was based on the chance of legal repercussions rather than the chance that the test actually gave racially disparate results is troubling. The fact that the city decided not to even investigate the test on a more statistically significant level is also troubling.

Honestly, I would have been surprised if this decision wasn't as close as it was. On the one hand there is the fact that that the test produced suspicious results. On the other hand, there is the lack of real investigation by the city. A 9-0 decision either way would disturb me.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Vaniver » Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:56 am UTC

Garm wrote:The court ruling essentially says that the city can't negate the results of the test based on fear of a lawsuit from minorities.
No, it doesn't. The opinion specifically said "you can void results because you expect they'll open you up to a lawsuit you'll lose," and specifically said that "you can't void results because they'll open you up to a lawsuit."

That is, you have to expect there's actual bias, instead of just a politically-connected black minister playing the race card.

Indon wrote:The city acted with the understanding that the test met the prima facie standard for filing a lawsuit under civil rights law. The court ruled that this was insufficient justification for the city to take action to address a possible problem (also that they were told they would be sued), and instead essentially set the evidenciary standard at the standard required for that potential lawsuit against the city to be found against them - that, essentially, the city had no right to fix what was obviously a broken system unless they were confident that a court itself would find it to be a broken system.
Just no. The only way you can call this test biased is if you invent the evidence in your head, like Boise Kimber. Just because of a group of 27 people did poorly on a test doesn't mean the test was out to get them.

[edit]It means you should look, and the City Council did. But then they made the wrong decision given the evidence available to them.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby e946 » Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:58 am UTC

Indon wrote:
e946 wrote:The problem is that no actual evidence was brought forward showing that the test had a racial bias.

The city acted with the understanding that the test met the prima facie standard for filing a lawsuit under civil rights law. The court ruled that this was insufficient justification for the city to take action to address a possible problem (also that they were told they would be sued), and instead essentially set the evidenciary standard at the standard required for that potential lawsuit against the city to be found against them - that, essentially, the city had no right to fix what was obviously a broken system unless they were confident that a court itself would find it to be a broken system.

I have yet to see what's obviously broken with the system. Yes, the results make it worth looking at twice, but it again comes down to evidence, or lack thereof.

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Re: And now, the dissent

Postby athelas » Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:41 am UTC

Indon wrote:So when a white-dominated union (who, btw, gives money to its' white members out of union dues to help the white members get promotions) runs a contract with a white-dominated company to promote firefighters based solely on a multiple-choice test, that's apparently not sufficient grounds to think something's up anymore.
:roll: Durn Whitey's outta git you!
Because clearly firefighting is all about the book smarts, being the highly intellectual, white-collar job it is. Certainly it has nothing to do with fitness, leadership, psychological wellness and other facets of managerial jobs which other public service organizations such as the military attempt to track.
Please read my post where I explain the importance of intelligence in fire officers.

Oh, one more thing. New Haven hasn’t bothered to hold another exam since 2003—presumably because it knows that any reasonable test would produce roughly the same results. Instead, it just hasn’t promoted anybody in five years. Instead, it has filled posts with “acting” lieutenants and captains of the politically desired colors, shutting the door on meritocracy altogether and replacing it with ass-kissing.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Jahoclave » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:29 am UTC

Indon wrote:
e946 wrote:The problem is that no actual evidence was brought forward showing that the test had a racial bias.

The city acted with the understanding that the test met the prima facie standard for filing a lawsuit under civil rights law. The court ruled that this was insufficient justification for the city to take action to address a possible problem (also that they were told they would be sued), and instead essentially set the evidenciary standard at the standard required for that potential lawsuit against the city to be found against them - that, essentially, the city had no right to fix what was obviously a broken system unless they were confident that a court itself would find it to be a broken system.

It renders the prima facie evidentiary standard in this case worthless, and it prevents private organizations from fixing problems with racism outside of the courtroom.

Right, so rather than actually determine if there is a problem with the test, or where the problem lies in the system, we'll just throw everything out and solve absolutely nothing. Good plan.

Jahoclave: It's firefighting, not some cubicle farm job. And the money given out was money to help fund the clearly racially partisan lawsuit, and the union was successfully sued - my objective was to point out the lack of impartiality behind what's going on.

Yes, because my meaning was exactly that I think everything should be based on a single test. Clearly that's why I said just that. Oh wait, I didn't. My point was that Indon's view was flawed, not that I think the test being the primary means of promotion was a good idea. I personally think that while a test is a good idea to test various things, a lot of other factors such as service and merit should be considered as well.

And just because the union is guilty does not make the test guilty. You're still trying to place facts that aren't in evidence. We're still, completely at the point that nobody has yet to provide anything that actually accounts for the test to be bias. When you can provide some reason from that test that points towards the test being bias in some form, get back to me.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby TheAmazingRando » Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:02 am UTC

Being good at taking multiple choice tests is a real, legitimate skill that has absolutely no bearing on how good someone will be as a firefighter, but which makes a big difference on who passes and who fails. I know very intelligent people who do phenomenally bad on multiple choice tests. I know people who are really good at them, and who can get great scores with introductory knowledge.

Given that there is a large amount of skill that is completely unrelated to firefighting that goes into getting a good score on a multiple choice test, it's an extremely poor metric to use for promotions. It may be that (and I think I've read a study on this before, but I can't find it, so just call this hypothetical), due to some sort of cultural or societal influence or upbringing, whites perform better than african americans on multiple choice tests, regardless of actual knowledge of the information covered. If this is the case, the use of such a test is racist, even if the intent isn't there, because it holds back a minority group for superficial reasons (skill at a test vs skill at firefighting).

If the board hasn't promoted any firefighters recently because of fear of lawsuits, it's their own fault. They should be using something better than a multiple-choice test rather than make it the all-or-nothing of promotion.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Velict » Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:58 am UTC

TheAmazingRando wrote:It may be that (and I think I've read a study on this before, but I can't find it, so just call this hypothetical), due to some sort of cultural or societal influence or upbringing, whites perform better than african americans on multiple choice tests, regardless of actual knowledge of the information covered. If this is the case, the use of such a test is racist, even if the intent isn't there, because it holds back a minority group for superficial reasons (skill at a test vs skill at firefighting).


You're supposing massive environmental bias that is resulting in statistically significant variance between whites and african americans on this test. The burden of proof is upon you to show that such a bias exists. Do you have knowledge of some sort of scholarly study showing this?

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby TheAmazingRando » Wed Jul 01, 2009 4:39 am UTC

First of all, I think it was Athelas who first brought up the idea of african americans performing more poorly on written tests in general. I thought I had read it somewhere before, I don't have the study on hand. My point, though, wasn't that this necessarily is the case, just that using something like a multiple choice test, which relies on skills well beyond those of firefighting, is inviting bias from areas unrelated to firefighting, not just racially. Therefore, it can give biased results that don't reflect the skills of the firefighters in questions.

For example, suppose that half the firefighters had gone to private high schools, and half had gone to public. Suppose that these private high schools taught test-taking strategies more completely than the public high schools (this is not at all unlikely, since private schools are all about university admittance, which relies heavily on multiple choice standardized tests). Using a multiple choice test would favor those from private schools over public schools. The high school of the firefighters in question is completely unrelated to their competence as firefighters.

Basically, I'm admitting that I could very well be wrong with the statistics, but it doesn't really make a difference. Multiple choice tests measure test-taking skills first, firefighting skills second, and therefore are not reliable for judging much beyond test-taking skills, especially not as the sole metric.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Jahoclave » Wed Jul 01, 2009 4:44 am UTC

Then the problem lies with the use of just a test to base promotion upon, not with the test itself. Of course, just tossing out the test and sticking their fingers in their ears solves nothing. I already point out that I think the just the test method is something I don't think is a good idea. A do think that a test over firefighting basics isn't a bad idea, but it should be coupled with experience and demonstrated ability in the field.

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Re: And now, the dissent

Postby Lucrece » Wed Jul 01, 2009 4:50 am UTC

athelas wrote:
Indon wrote:So when a white-dominated union (who, btw, gives money to its' white members out of union dues to help the white members get promotions) runs a contract with a white-dominated company to promote firefighters based solely on a multiple-choice test, that's apparently not sufficient grounds to think something's up anymore.
:roll: Durn Whitey's outta git you!
Because clearly firefighting is all about the book smarts, being the highly intellectual, white-collar job it is. Certainly it has nothing to do with fitness, leadership, psychological wellness and other facets of managerial jobs which other public service organizations such as the military attempt to track.
Please read my post where I explain the importance of intelligence in fire officers.

Oh, one more thing. New Haven hasn’t bothered to hold another exam since 2003—presumably because it knows that any reasonable test would produce roughly the same results. Instead, it just hasn’t promoted anybody in five years. Instead, it has filled posts with “acting” lieutenants and captains of the politically desired colors, shutting the door on meritocracy altogether and replacing it with ass-kissing.


Was the poor imitation of ebonics really necessary?
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby aleflamedyud » Wed Jul 01, 2009 5:41 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:
Vaniver wrote:
e946 wrote:Two important questions remain unanswered though: How many black people applied, versus how many white people? And has this test ever been used before, and if so, were the results as unbalanced?
The burden of proof should be on the claim that the test was imbalanced- and there were no credible reasons to believe so. There were reasons to suggest it (it was multiple choice), but that's far from proof.

If you look into the history of the people involved (specifically, the guy who threatened the lawsuit), you'll see how ugly this particular incident was.

Which is why, as athelas points out, the 5-4 ruling is worrying.

Yeah, it'd be a completely different matter in my mind if they actually had a reason to believe the test was unfair, but they've never even presented any reason why it is other than on one occasion minorities didn't do well without any other justification.

It's like a grad school that gets 5 great applicants that meet the entrance requirements and one that doesn't, but the one that doesn't happens to be a minority so we're going to completely rewrite the basic requirements for admittance despite the fact that there was no racial bias in the basic requirements.

But fear of a lawsuit as justification? That's wishy-washy bullshit. Let them file the lawsuit if they thought the test was unfair. At least then we'd get to see a reason why the test is believed to be unfair.

This is what happens when you go for equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity.

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This kind of BS is why I want the American left to go back to labor/class politics and get away from this identity politics bullshit. How can we legitimately hope to win elections when we use power to baldly enact reverse racism into policy? This isn't what liberalism is supposed to be!

What happened to meritocracy?

Was the poor imitation of ebonics really necessary?

That doesn't read like Ebonics at all. It reads like a hick.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Lucrece » Wed Jul 01, 2009 6:16 am UTC

A lot of the ebonics derives from Southern speech patterns. The indicator being "Durn Whitey".

Hicks don't call themselves "whitey", ever.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby apeman5291 » Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:40 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Then the problem lies with the use of just a test to base promotion upon, not with the test itself. Of course, just tossing out the test and sticking their fingers in their ears solves nothing. I already point out that I think the just the test method is something I don't think is a good idea. A do think that a test over firefighting basics isn't a bad idea, but it should be coupled with experience and demonstrated ability in the field.

The article wrote:Kennedy said that New Haven's test -- 60 percent of the firefighters' scores were based on a written test and 40 percent on interviews -- properly evaluated what candidates would need to know to perform their jobs, and that it was equally applied to candidates of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

It looks like they're already trying to incorporate other means of assessment. Preferably, the significance of the multiple choice part would be reduced, though.

Lucrece wrote:A lot of the ebonics derives from Southern speech patterns. The indicator being "Durn Whitey".

Hicks don't call themselves "whitey", ever.
It read like hick for me, too. Poorly done hick, but hick none the less.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby athelas » Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:42 pm UTC

Considering the inanity of the statement I was responding to, I was responding in "idiot." But feel free to do the outrage thing if you like.

Also remember that this was not a test for hiring firemen, but for promoting them to officers. And as I said, there are good reasons to expect book smarts (and smarts at all) from someone essentially in a management job.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Indon » Wed Jul 01, 2009 10:06 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:No, it doesn't. The opinion specifically said "you can void results because you expect they'll open you up to a lawsuit you'll lose," and specifically said that "you can't void results because they'll open you up to a lawsuit."

That is, you have to expect there's actual bias, instead of just a politically-connected black minister playing the race card.

No, you have to prove to your own organization that there's actual bias - and frankly, even if you do, you're still open to a lawsuit in which you then have to demonstrate that proof that your organization is racist in a court of law, basically removing any PR incentive for an organization to fix discrimination outside of being forced to by a lawsuit.

Jahoclave wrote:Then the problem lies with the use of just a test to base promotion upon, not with the test itself. Of course, just tossing out the test and sticking their fingers in their ears solves nothing.


They were going to look into a different selection method but they were sued.

New Haven, and all organizations in its' position, has been rendered impotent to fix its' own problems. Now, essentially, only third parties are empowered to fix discrimination of this category, using the legal system.

Jahoclave wrote:And just because the union is guilty does not make the test guilty.

It's a multiple-choice test to promote firefighters, agreed upon in a contract with an obviously racially biased organization.

If the NAACP made a contract with a computer company to determine promotions based on height, that'd also be obviously jacked up.

As it stands, minorities in New Haven will have to file suit, rather than trying to work in good faith with the city, because the city is now unable to work in good faith to promote equal opportunity.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby peter » Wed Jul 01, 2009 10:42 pm UTC

Indon wrote:It's a multiple-choice test to promote firefighters, agreed upon in a contract with an obviously racially biased organization.

If the NAACP made a contract with a computer company to determine promotions based on height, that'd also be obviously jacked up.

One of these things is not like the other thing...

You make it seem as if a multiple-choice test is an absolutely abhorrent test-taking procedure, one rarely seen outside of this scenario. And then a comparison of a test to a physical attribute for promotion: wow.

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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Indon » Wed Jul 01, 2009 10:51 pm UTC

peter wrote:You make it seem as if a multiple-choice test is an absolutely abhorrent test-taking procedure, one rarely seen outside of this scenario.


Sure, you can see it in all sorts of jobs that aren't firefighting.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Will » Wed Jul 01, 2009 10:55 pm UTC

peter wrote:
Indon wrote:It's a multiple-choice test to promote firefighters, agreed upon in a contract with an obviously racially biased organization.You make it seem as if a multiple-choice test is an absolutely abhorrent test-taking procedure, one rarely seen outside of this scenario.
You make it seem as if a multiple-choice test is an absolutely abhorrent test-taking procedure, one rarely seen outside of this scenario. And then a comparison of a test to a physical attribute for promotion: wow.


You people and your ability to twist each others words is nothing short of fucking astounding. That is not at all REMOTELY what indon was saying. AT ALL. He's pointing out how *absolutely absurd* it is to promote firefighters on the basis of a multiple choice test (and crucially, the test was the only method of evaluation when deciding whether or not to grant a promotion). A written exam alone cannot possibly test the kinds of things that make a good firefighter. Nobody here has argued that multiple choice tests shouldn't be employed in an absolute sense, nor are they saying that written tests are all biased without exception (whether this specific test is biased is still not clear, and frankly not at the heart of the argument.)
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Freakish » Wed Jul 01, 2009 11:00 pm UTC

Indon wrote:
peter wrote:You make it seem as if a multiple-choice test is an absolutely abhorrent test-taking procedure, one rarely seen outside of this scenario.


Sure, you can see it in all sorts of jobs that aren't firefighting.


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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby ivnja » Wed Jul 01, 2009 11:11 pm UTC

Will wrote:...(and crucially, the test was the only method of evaluation when deciding whether or not to grant a promotion). A written exam alone...

apeman5291 wrote:
The article wrote:Kennedy said that New Haven's test -- 60 percent of the firefighters' scores were based on a written test and 40 percent on interviews -- properly evaluated what candidates would need to know to perform their jobs, and that it was equally applied to candidates of all races and ethnic backgrounds.


I'm not going to really jump into arguing the details of the case or whether the court was right or wrong, but I do want to point out as apeman did that if the article is correct, the exam wasn't the only method, although it was the portion with the most weight (and yes, it's also true that an interview may also have limited use in determining firefighting skills).
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby apeman5291 » Thu Jul 02, 2009 12:30 am UTC

The article used "test" to refer to the entire composite examination, which becomes a little confusing because we're also using test to talk about the multiple choice part.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby Vaniver » Thu Jul 02, 2009 1:01 am UTC

Indon wrote:No, you have to prove to your own organization that there's actual bias - and frankly, even if you do, you're still open to a lawsuit in which you then have to demonstrate that proof that your organization is racist in a court of law, basically removing any PR incentive for an organization to fix discrimination outside of being forced to by a lawsuit.
Ok. So, you can only do things because of discrimination if you have proof discrimination is there? I fail to see how this is a step away from equal treatment under the law.
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Re: Court Rules for White Firefighters in Discrimination Suit

Postby BlackSails » Thu Jul 02, 2009 1:09 am UTC

My brother is a firefighter. He agrees with having a written test to be promoted. Being promoted does not mean you are more responsible for fighting fires. It means you are more responsible for making decisions during fires. Physical fitness has nothing to do with it except for that fact that you still have to be a firefighter.

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