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2009: Lewis v. Chicago
When an employer adopts an employment practice that discriminates against African Americans in violation of Title VII's disparate impact provision, must a plaintiff file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days after the announcement of the practice, or may a plaintiff file a charge within 300 days after the employer's use of the discriminatory practice?

Lewis v. Chicago


Oral Arguments: February 22nd, 2010

Question: When an employer adopts an employment practice that discriminates against African Americans in violation of Title VII's disparate impact provision, must a plaintiff file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days after the announcement of the practice, or may a plaintiff file a charge within 300 days after the employer's use of the discriminatory practice?

Background*: Employment discrimination law allows workers and applicants to challenge selection procedures, like written or physical examinations, that have a disparate impact. Employment discrimination law also requires that a charge of discrimination be filed within 300 days (or 180 days, depending on the state) of the discriminatory act.

In 1995, the City of Chicago used a written test to screen firefighter applicants; it ranked the applicants into three groups: "qualified", "well-qualified", and "not qualified". The division between "well-qualified" and "qualified" had a large adverse impact on African American test takers; white test takers were five times more likely to be ranked "well-qualified" than Black test takers. The City announced the results of the examination and that it would start to hire from those in the "well-qualified" group first. The City informed those who were ranked "qualified" that it was unclear how many positions would be open, and therefore they would be kept on a list of eligible candidates until such time as all positions were filled. Ultimately, the City hired 77% white and 9% Black applicants, from a pool of applicants that was 45% white and 36% Black.

The Black applicants in the "qualified" group sued within 300 days of the City's hiring decisions, but more than 300 days after the announcement of the test results. The case went to trial and the applicants were able to show that the decision to put test-takers into "qualified" and "well-qualified" groups had a disparate impact against Blacks and was not justified by business necessity. On appeal, the City's only argument was that the original charge of discrimination was untimely and thus the entire case should be thrown out. The appellate court agreed and vacated the trial court's judgment.

*Please note: This description of Lewis v. Chicago comes directly from the website of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Amicus Brief: The URJ signed onto a brief coordinated by the National Partnership for Women and Families and the National Women's Law Center. The brief argues that the only appropriate rule - consistent with both the text and purpose of Title VII's disparate impact provision - is one that would permit an individual to challenge an employment selection or promotion policy or device that has a disparate impact whenever the policy is applied to that individual. The brief reminds the Court that Title VII's disparate impact provisions have been critical in opening employment opportunities to women and people of color. It cites many instances where Title VII's disparate impact provision has been used to challenge not only testing practices that have an unjustified impact on women and people of color, but also practices such as education requirements, criminal history requirements, residency requirements, height and weight requirements, and credit checks.

For the Union for Reform Judaism's resolution on wage discrimination, click here.

For the Union for Reform Judaism's resolution on the equal rights amendment, click here.

For a complete listing of cases that the Supreme Court is considering this term, visit the SCOTUSWiki 2009 Case Index.




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