The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded a win the City of Chicago obtained against an African-American class of firefighter applicants seeking positions with the City. In Lewis v. City of Chicago, a group of firefighter applicants filed a lawsuit against the City challenging the City’s 1996 decision that it would only consider those applicants who scored "well-qualified" on the entrance examination. Applicants who passed the test, but only scored "qualified" were not further considered for employment opportunities.
The plaintiffs challenged their exclusion from the screening process when the City exhausted its pool of well-qualified applicants but failed to begin considering those who scored "qualified" on the test. The thrust of the plaintiffs’ claim was that the arbitrary decision to only consider those "well-qualified" applicants had a disparate impact on racial minorities. The plaintiffs won at trial, but their victory was reversed when the court of appeals held that because none of the applicants filed a timely charge of discrimination from the date the decision was made to only hire applicants from the "well-qualified" list, their claims were untimely and barred.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals holding that a plaintiff who does not file a timely charge of discrimination challenging the adoption of an allegedly unlawful practice may still assert a disparate impact claim in a later charge challenging the employer’s use of that practice as long as the plaintiff alleges each of the elements of a disparate impact claim. A complete copy of the Court’s opinion can be accessed here.