Employment Ruling At Center Stage For Sotomayor Confirmation

As judge for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007, Judge Sotomayor affirmed a lower court’s ruling that 17 white and two Hispanic firefighters were not discriminated against in violation of Title VII and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The case is Ricci vs. DeStefano.  This ruling is being closely examined in Judge Sotomayor's confirmation to the US Supreme Court and is drawing many criticisms.  

The firefighters argued that the city of New Haven discriminated against them on the basis of their race when it threw out the results of a test that qualified the 19 firefighters for a promotion. The city threw out the results on the basis that none of the 27 black firefighters who took the exam, and passed, scored high enough to qualify for the promotion.

The lower court judge, Janet Bond Arterton, ruled that the city did not discriminate against the white and Hispanic firefighters. She said the city’s attempt to avoid discriminating against minority firefighters was "race neutral," because "all the test results were discarded, no one was promoted, and firefighters of every race will have to participate in another selection process." The firefighters’ appeal of the decision brought the case in front of Judge Sotomayor and two other judges for the Second Court of Appeals.

Judge Sotomayor and the other two judges upheld the lower court’s ruling in a two-paragraph opinion citing the reasons set forth in the lower court’s “thorough, thoughtful, and well-reasoned opinion.” The Los Angeles Times reports that other judges in the Second Circuit thought the opinion was inadequate, but a move to have it reconsidered was stopped by a vote of 7-6 by the judges.

The United States Supreme Court accepted review of the case. Oral arguments took place in April 2009, and a ruling from the Supreme Court is expected this month.

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