Briscoe v. City of New Haven
Title VII prohibits an employer's use of a practice that has a disparate effect on a particular race. Seventy-seven New Haven firefighters took a 2003 exam for promotion. The top 10 test scorers were white. African-American Michael Briscoe scored first on the oral exam, with a score of 92. His written score of 59 placed Briscoe's final score as the 24th highest. The New Haven Civil Service Board refused to certify the 2003 exam, because it was concerned about the potential for litigation that alleged disparate impact. Caucasian firefighters sued. In June 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court held that New Haven's refusal to certify the promotion exam violated Title VII. In October, Briscoe filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and argued disparate effect, because the oral exam only accounted for 40 percent of the final score. (The CHRO refused to accept Briscoe's complaint, because the alleged denial of promotion had not yet occurred.) In December, the city promoted the top 16 candidates (three of whom were African-American). The defendants successfully moved to dismiss Briscoe's District Court suit, because it was not filed timely. The 2nd Circuit reversed. On remand, the District Court considered whether Briscoe's October 2009 CHRO complaint gave rise to a "freestanding disparate impact claim," which the CHRO wrongfully returned. It concluded that Briscoe's 2009 CHRO complaint stated a viable claim pursuant to Connecticut v. Teal, a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Teal held that a promotion process with a disparate effect can give rise to a Title VII claim, before the process takes effect to deny the particular individual a promotion. The District Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis that Briscoe's complaint was not filed timely. It also rejected the city's laches defense that Briscoe's delay was unreasonable and resulted in prejudice to the defendant. On the merits, Briscoe failed to prove a disparate effect on the basis of race. Even if the oral exam had accounted for 100 percent of the test results, only three African-Americans would have been promoted. The court granted the motion to dismiss.