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Newark, N.J., residency rules may have disparate impact on whites: Court


PHILADELPHIA—The residency requirement of the city of Newark, N.J., for non-uniformed workers may be having a disparate impact on non-Hispanic white applicants, says an appellate court in overturning a lower court ruling.

In the Sept. 28 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in Gregory Meditz vs. City of Newark, the plaintiff, who is an attorney, represented himself in the case. Mr. Meditz, a Rutherford, N.J., resident who is a white male, had applied for a position as a housing development analyst in Newark in 2007, but was rejected because he did not live in the city.

“Meditz alleges that the residency requirement adopted by Newark for its non-uniformed workforce has a disparate impact on white, non-Hispanics because Newark's population does not reflect the racial make-up of the relevant labor market in the surrounding area,” said a three-judge panel's ruling. “As a result, white, non-Hispanics are under-represented in Newark's non-uniformed work force.”

Mr. Meditz sued, claiming the city's policy had a disparate impact on non-Hispanic white applicants, and a lower court granted Newark summary judgment “concluding that Meditz failed to prove his prima facie case,” said the appellate ruling.

The appellate court said, however, that Mr. Meditz's statistical evidence “appears to establish a prima facie case,” and the district court's ruling was incorrect.

“We will remand so that the district court can…conduct a complete and correct statistical analysis, comparing the makeup of Newark's non-uniformed labor force with the similarly skilled labor force in the relevant labor market,” said the decision.

The appellate court also disagreed with the lower court's ruling that Newark is still entitled to summary judgment because it has met the requirements of the “business necessity defense,” finding it had applied the incorrect standard.

Commenting on the case, Michael J. Davey, an associate with law firm Eckell Sparks Levy Auerbach Monte Sloane Matthews & Auslander P.C. in Media, Pa., noted there is no need with disparate impact cases “to prove any sort of discriminatory intent or animus.”

If a plaintiff can garner evidence that showed statistical deviations “beyond the norm, that would get you, and should get you, before a jury,” said Mr. Davey, who was not involved in the case.

While the 3rd Circuit’s ruling does not establish any new legal grounds, it emphasizes “how important disparate impact cases can be with the right numbers and statistical analysis and investigation,” he said.

Disparate impact was an issue in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Frank Ricci et al. vs. John DeStefano et al., in which the majority held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits disparate treatment, as well as disparate impact.

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