New Haven firefighter Matthew Marcarelli had been hoping for a promotion. He scored highest on a test given by the City of New Haven in 2003. It was “gut wrenching” to learn he wouldn’t be promoted after all, he told Fox News recently.
Promotions weren’t going to anyone who ranked in the top of the results. The city tossed out the findings, fearing it would be opening itself up for lawsuits from black firefighters, since none who took the test landed the highest scores.
Instead, the city was sued -- mostly by white firefighters, known as the "New Haven 20" who did not get promoted.
The case, Ricci v. DeStefano, has worked its way through the legal system and testimony will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. It has been written about extensively in the legal press, blogs and mainstream news organizations.
Call it a legal riddle only the Supreme Court could solve: The white firefighters say Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against them for being white. New Haven says Title VII prohibits it from using a test that has a disparate impact against blacks.
The dispute could impact how race can be considered in filling government, and perhaps even private, jobs and also addresses broader questions about racial progress.
Gary Tinney, a black lieutenant who has been a firefighter for 14 years, was seeking a promotion to captain when he took the exam. He says there are hidden biases in the test itself and in the department.
“I just call it ‘the network,’” Tinney told the Associated Press.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Washington on Wednesday after releasing opinions. A decision will not be delivered until later this year.