NEW YORK, July 30 (Reuters) - The city of Buffalo, New York,
did not discriminate against African-Americans with the test it
used to promote firefighters, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Although black firefighters generally had a lower pass rate
than their white counterparts, Buffalo demonstrated that the
test assessed the necessary skills for the job of fire
lieutenant, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2-1
"(W)e conclude that the district court had sufficient
evidence to make a preponderance finding that Buffalo's use of
that test to promote firefighters to the rank of fire lieutenant
was job related and consistent with business necessity," U.S.
Circuit Court Judge Reena Raggi wrote for the majority, which
also included Judge John Walker.
The appeal consolidated two lawsuits filed by Men Of Color
Helping All Society Inc, or MOCHA, a fraternal organization
representing African-American firefighters in Buffalo. The
lawsuits alleged that the city violated Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act by administering promotional tests in 1998 and 2002
that were racially discriminatory.
MOCHA said that African-Americans passed the test at lower
rates than their white counterparts -- 43 percent compared to 76
percent. As a result, African-Americans were underrepresented in
the Buffalo Fire Department's upper ranks, MOCHA argued.
Buffalo countered that the test, which had been designed by
the New York State Civil Service Department, was a valid
assessment of the skills, knowledge, ability and personality
traits needed to succeed as a fire lieutenant, according to the
The Western District of New York court dismissed both
complaints, in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Plaintiffs had shown
that the test had a disparate impact on African-American test
takers, but the fire department demonstrated that the test
addressed the necessary requirements for the job, the ruling
The 2nd Circuit majority agreed.
In dissent, Judge Amalya Kearse said Buffalo had failed to
show the test was tailored to the position of fire lieutenant in
Further, she said, the majority's finding could make it
difficult for other municipalities to throw out employment-test
results that have a disparate impact on a protected group, like
"(I)t strikes me that this affirmance -- allowing Buffalo to
avoid liability without having made any effort whatever to seek,
verify or defend the test's validity -- will make it virtually
impossible for a municipality not to certify for use a test that
has clear discriminatory impact," she wrote.
Joseph Brown, a lawyer representing Buffalo, said the city
"was pleased" with the court's ruling.
"The opinion recognizes the difficult position in which
public employers frequently find themselves when making
decisions about personnel selection procedures after the United
States Supreme Court's opinion in Ricci v. DeStefano."
In that 2009 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the validity
of a firefighter test in New Haven, Connecticut, that had a
disparate impact on minorities.
A lawyer for MOCHA did not immediately return a request for
The case is MOCHA Society Inc et al v. City of Buffalo, 2nd
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 11-2184 and 10-2168.
For the plaintiffs: Thomas Gill.
For Buffalo: Joseph Brown of Hodgson Russ.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)
Follow us on Twitter @ReutersLegal | Like us on Facebook