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Appellate court reinstates case involving black New Haven, Conn., firefighter


NEW YORK—A federal appellate court reinstated a lawsuit brought by a black New Haven, Conn., firefighter over the same 2003 exam that was the focus of a U.S. Supreme Court case.

In June 2009, 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 city rejected the 2003 captain and lieutenant's promotion exams out of fear it would be sued for discrimination by minority candidates. The majority held that Title VII prohibits intentional discrimination, or disparate treatment, as well as disparate impact, which are practices that are “facially neutral” but discriminatory in operation.

Last month, those Connecticut firefighters accepted settlement offers from the city totaling about $2 million to end their case.

New case can move forward

In his 2009 suit, Michael Briscoe vs. City of New Haven, Mr. Briscoe argued he failed to win a promotion after the 2003 lieutenant exam because the test was weighted 60% for its written portion and 40% for its oral portion. The suit said 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.”

In its decision Monday, a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Mr. Briscoe still could pursue his case despite the Ricci decision. The opinion stated that after careful review of that decision “and relevant nonparty preclusion and Title VII case law, we conclude that Briscoe's claim is neither precluded nor properly dismissed.”

The Briscoe decision, however, which overturned a lower court ruling, added that while it was remanding the case for further proceedings, it expresses no view as to whether other issues, including relevant statutes of limitations, “may warrant dismissal of the action.”

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