New Haven Firefighters the Supreme Court Case essay

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New Haven Firefighters

The Supreme Court case of Ricci v. DeStefano was heard in April of 2009, and the Court's decision was issued in favor of the plaintiffs on 29 June, 2009. The plaintiffs here, Ricci et al., were nineteen firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut who had sued the administration of New Haven mayor John DeStefano over the decision to disregard results from a written examination given for promotion within the city fire department. Ricci et al. alleged reverse discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination based on race: it is necessary to note in this context that the vast majority of the plantiffs in Ricci were white, with two Hispanics included, and that the administrative decision made in New Haven was based on the fact that no African-American firefighters were able to pass the test and thus be eligible for promotion. The Supreme Court held that the DeStefano administrations decision was, in fact, racial discrimination of the sort forbidden by Title VII, and was thus unlawful. Yet the judicial outcome of the case was hardly predictable before the fact, and is to a certain degree irrelevant to the matter that I would like to address. It is worth asking whether, from an analysis of managerial strategy, whether the city of New Haven had acted reasonably in the first place when they rejected the promotion test results. I would like to argue that, for several specific reasons which I shall address in turn, the DeStefano administration acted as best as it could in the situation, from a managerial standpoint. It is worth addressing their motives, and some of the complications of the story, at greater length in order to see how a decision that was ultimately found to be unlawful made a considerable amount of sense at the time.

New Haven, Connecticut -- the locus of this lawsuit -- is probably best known as the home of Yale University. It is the second largest city in the state of Connecticut, but despite the presence of an esteemed Ivy League institution, New Haven had been subject to a long period of decline before the incident that would result in the Ricci decision. The Washington Post notes that New Haven itself was promoted as the "laboratory" of "urban renewal" strategies in an attempt to revitalize the city after the loss of manufacturing and shipping jobs in the immediate post-World-War-II period had left the city's economy hollowed out, with little to hold it together except for Yale. The Post offers an estimated figure of $745 expended per resident between the late 1940s and late 1970s in external funding to rebuild infrastructure and promote "renewal," which was more than twice as much as the next largest recipient of such funding, Newark, New Jersey. This period of economic downturn in New Haven was also marked by notable racial tensions: in 1970, Yale University and its president, Kingman Brewster, would be drawn into racial and civil rights jurisprudence over the federal government's standoff with the Black Panther Party's organization in New Haven. Brewster and Yale would side with the Panthers, purely from a civil rights standpoint. But two decades after the Panther incident, racial tensions in New Haven would still continue to simmer, and the 1991 murder of white undergraduate Christian Prince by African-American city resident James Duncan Fleming would be credited with a decline in admissions and donations to Yale -- later that year Yale president Benno C. Schmidt Jr. would warn of Yale's own impending financial crisis based on what he described as decades of "deferred maintenance" on its buildings. These events within New Haven's largest institutional employer mimicked the larger racial stratification of the city at large, although it is worth noting that New Haven's ethnic mix means that most of the white population is of Italian-American descent -- plaintiff Ricci and New Haven mayor John DeStefano are both Italian-American, and fall within the solid tradition of Italian-American civic participation that had earlier given the state of Connecticut its first female governor, Italian-American Ella T. Grasso (who had previously represented New Haven in the U.S. House of Representatives) and New Haven's current representative in Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

From a managerial standpoint, then, DeStefano (elected as a Democrat) was ideally placed to mediate between New Haven's three largest political lobbies, all traditionally Democratic -- the city's Italian-American community, its African-American community, and the Yale University community which is more interested in a…[continue]

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