NY State Appeals Court Awards 2.7 Million to White Firefighters in Reverse Discrimination Case

by Art Gutman Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

The case is Margerum v. City of Buffalo, decided on 2/8/12 by Justice John A. Michalek of that New York State Supreme Court in Erie County. The allegation in this case was that the city permitted an eligibility list for promotion to expire because the candidates that were next in line were white. Based on Justice Michalek’s ruling, 12 of 13 original plaintiffs will share 2.5 million in equitable relief (i.e., economic damages) and an additional $255,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress. The most interesting aspect of this case is that there was a ruling favoring the city rendered prior to Ricci that was then reversed after Ricci.

More specifically, on 6/5/09 by the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth (see 880 N.Y.S.2d 820) ruled that the decision to allow the promotion list to expire was race-based. However, using a strict scrutiny analysis, the court ruled that the plaintiffs “failed to establish the absence of a compelling interest and submitted no evidence to establish that the defendants' actions were not narrowly tailored to meet an allegedly compelling interest.” This court then reconsidered the case in light of Ricci on 10/2/09, and on 4/29/11 ordered summary judgment for the plaintiffs, ruling that:

[T]he City defendants did not have a strong basis in evidence to believe that they would be subject to disparate-impact liability if they failed to take the race-conscious action, i.e., allowing the eligibility lists to expire, inasmuch as the examinations in question were job-related and consistent with business necessity

The ruling on 2/8/12 by Justice Michalek affirmed this ruling, and laid out in great detail how and why the monetary awards were calculated on a plaintiff-by-plaintiff basis.

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