News Roundup: Week of Sept. 27 – Oct. 3

Businesses feel healthcare pinch; Global warming top issue

High Court to Tackle Time Limitations on Employment Discrimination

lawcourtThe U.S. Supreme Court said Sept. 30 it will hear a case this fall to decide how long plaintiffs have to file a lawsuit based on an employer’s discriminatory action.

The case stems from a 2008 ruling in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2005 verdict that found the city of Chicago guilty of civil rights violations for using a firefighter hiring exam that illegally discriminated against the plaintiffs. Although white test takers were five times more likely to qualify for the job than black test takers, the appeals court ruled that the 6,000 black applicants did not file their complaints of racism within 300 days after test results were announced.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), which represents the black firefighters, argues that complaints of bias were not warranted until the city applied the discriminatory test results to hiring practices.

“This case will determine whether job applicants that a court has determined are victims of discrimination will be denied an effective remedy,” said NAACP LDF president John Payton.

The case, Lewis v. Chicago, hinges upon the court’s interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which safeguards against discrimination in the workplace.

Amendments were made to Title VII in January when President Barack Obama signed into law the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The amendment revised the law to reset the statute of limitations for filing a discrimination lawsuit upon each biased paycheck.

Title VII was also brought into question in 2008 when one Hispanic and several white firefighters sued New Haven, Connecticut for race discrimination over the suspension of an exam for promotions. The city declined their promotions because no black candidates were eligible for advancement after taking the exam.

Lewis v. Chicago will likely be closely watched because new Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled against the firefighters when she was a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. That ruling was later overturned by the High Court.

The Justices have granted the review of 10 new cases for the 2009 fall term; including an appeal of a ruling about the right to bear arms.

— Marcia Wade Talbert

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