Printed from

Black firefighter sues New Haven, Conn., over test

Posted On: Oct. 16, 2009 12:00 AM CST

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The city of New Haven, Conn., has come under fresh legal fire for its 2003 firemen’s promotional exams, after a black firefighter filed suit asserting that he was denied a promotion because of the way the exam was graded.

In Michael Briscoe vs. City of New Haven filed Thursday, Mr. Briscoe argues that he failed to win a promotion following the 2003 lieutenant exam because the test was weighted 60% for its written portion and 40% for its oral portion. The suit says the oral exam “was a better way to assess candidates’ skills and abilities than the written test and had less disparate impact on African-Americans.”

“The differences between the written test and the oral exam disadvantage a candidate, like the plaintiff, who had diligently studied and learned all the material taught during years of on-the-job experience and extensive in-service training, compared to one who did little until the run-up to the exam but then memorized the facts that were included in the assigned written materials,” the suit states.

Had the oral exam had been weighted to be 70% of the score, which the lawsuit says is the norm for U.S. public agencies, Mr. Briscoe would have ranked fourth instead of No. 24 and would have been eligible for promotion. The suit says two other African-Americans would also have placed among the top 12 taking the examination.

The suit seeks an injunction directing that Mr. Briscoe be considered immediately eligible for promotion to lieutenant or that a “nondiscriminatory selection system” be used for promotions for any vacant lieutenant positions. The suit also seeks unspecified compensation, including back pay.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court in Frank Ricci et al. vs. John DeStefano et al. ruled in favor of 17 firefighters—16 white and one Hispanic—who sued New Haven because the Connecticut city rejected the 2003 captain and lieutenant’s promotion exams out of fear it would be sued for discrimination by minority candidates.