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Season 2: Episode 5: A Discussion of Ricci v. DeStefano

In Season 2, Episode 5 of Notorious, we discuss the case of Ricci v. DeStefano, which involved the question of whether the city of New Haven, Connecticut violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it rejected the results of a civil service exam given to firefighters. The results of the exam showed that white candidates had out-performed minority candidates and the question was raised as to whether the exam was discriminatory.

The Supreme Court held 5–4 that New Haven's decision to ignore the test results violated Title VII because the city did not have a "strong basis in evidence" that it would have subjected itself to disparate impact liability. Because the plaintiffs won under their Title VII claim, the Court did not consider the plaintiffs' Equal Protection Clause argument. The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justice Scalia, Justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito.

Justice Ginsburg issued a dissent in this case, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer.  Justice Ginsburg opined: 

This case presents an unfortunate situation, one New Haven might well have avoided had it utilized a better selection process in the first place. But what this case does not present is race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII. I dissent from the Court's judgment, which rests on the false premise that respondents showed "a significant statistical disparity," but "nothing more."

Patterson Belknap attorneys Michelle Bufano, Catherine A. Williams, and Leigh E. Barnwell discuss Justice Ginsburg’s impact on this case.

Related Resources:

For a selection of Justice Ginsburg’s writings, see Decisions and Dissents of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:  A Selection, edited by Corey Brettschneider.

For more information about Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, see

For information about becoming a guest on Notorious, email Michelle Bufano.

For questions or more information about Notorious, email Jenni Dickson.

Also, check out the Patterson Belknap podcast, How to Build A Nation in 15 Weeks.