Conn. Town's Fire Dept. Exam back in the Courts

October 19, 2009 ( - The controversial 2003 promotional exam by the city of New Haven, Connecticut, that was the subject of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case is back in the courts with the filing of a new discrimination lawsuit.

A Business Insurance news report said Michael Briscoe, a black firefighter, charged in the suit filed last week that he was edged out for promotion as a result of the lieutenant exam because the test was weighted 60% for the written portion and 40% for oral responses. The suit alleges the oral portion was actually a better way to assess officer candidates since it would be less likely to discriminate against African-Americans.

According to the suit, by assigning a 70% weighting to the score for the oral portion – which Briscoe claimed was normal in a public employer setting, he would have ended up fourth on the list rather than at 24th and would have been eligible for a promotion.

“The differences between the written test and the oral exam disadvantaged 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 argued. “Candidates who demonstrated job related skills and abilities were at a disadvantage compared with those who showed less skill and ability as fire lieutenants but were strong on memorization and multiple-choice test-taking skills.”

Alleging the city’s actions constituted a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the suit requests an injunction directing that Briscoe be considered immediately eligible for promotion to lieutenant or that a “nondiscriminatory selection system” be used for promotions for any vacant lieutenant positions.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court in Frank Ricci et al. vs. John DeStefano et al. ruled in favor of 17 firefighters 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 (see High Court Tosses City’s Move to Invalidate Promotion Exam ). Those plaintiffs included 16 white firefighters and one Hispanic, according to the report.

The latest New Haven lawsuit is available here .