Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Firefighters in High-Profile Discrimination Case, Sets New Standard for Evaluating Disparate Treatment Versus Disparate Impact

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Today the Supreme Court resolved an inherent tension between Title VII's disparate treatment and disparate impact provisions, holding that the mere desire to avoid liability under Title VII's disparate impact provision does not automatically justify a conscious decision to violate the statute's disparate treatment provision. See Ricci v. DeStefano (June 29, 2009). Title VII's disparate treatment provision prohibits intentional discrimination on the basis of a protected category, while the disparate impact provision prohibits certain practices that are not intended to discriminate but, in fact, have a disproportionately adverse effect on minorities. Recognizing the difficulty employers may face in balancing these competing interests, the Court adopted a "strong basis in evidence" test to be used in such situations. Under this standard, employers must demonstrate that a strong basis in evidence exists that their actions might violate Title VII's disparate impact provisions before employers can make race-based decisions.

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