RICCI’S TENTACLES EXPANDED

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

In NAACP v. North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40067), the NAACP challenged a residency requirement for firefighter candidates excluding applicants living outside of “member municipalities” on grounds of adverse impact on blacks. Prior to the Ricci ruling, Senior District Court Judge Dickson R. Debevoise for the District of New Jersey issued a preliminary injunction against North Hudson, giving the municipality the option of hiring from a tri-county list from within and beyond North Hudson. However, North Hudson responded with a hiring freeze, believing they would be in violation of a settlement reached with Hispanic applicants from North Hudson in 2009. Talk about a conflict? Stick with the residency requirement and one minority group sues, go against it and another minority group sues. Fortunately for North Hudson, Judge Debevoise overturned the preliminary injunction in light of Ricci. Curiously, the judge acknowledged there was no inherent connection between the North Hudson residency requirement and the Ricci ruling. Nevertheless, the judge ruled that North Hudson’s fear of losing a challenge by Hispanic applicants was job related, and therefore, was likely to prevail in its defense.

Of further interest in this case, the plaintiffs cited US v. City of New York [637 F.Supp 2d 77 (E.D.N.Y. 2009)], a case decided shortly after Ricci in which a district court judge Nicholas G. Garaufis struck down a firefighter test based on weak validation evidence. In that case, Judge Garaufis ruled that Ricci was irrelevant to the issue of whether a test is valid or not valid. In the North Hudson case, Judge Debevoise disagreed with both “the plaintiffs in the instant case and with the court in the City of New York case” on grounds that the North Hudson case involves “tensions between disparate impact and disparate treatment.”

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