(CN) – The 2nd Circuit reinstated a lawsuit accusing Syracuse of denying jobs to white firefighter applicants with high test scores in order to boost the number of black firefighters on the force.
In 1980, Syracuse settled claims that it had discriminated against black applicants in the past and agreed to consider race when hiring, to ensure that blacks are hired “in numbers approximating their representation within the labor force.”
City officials relied on this 1980 agreement when faced with a lawsuit years later from two white firefighter applicants, who claimed the affirmative action program deprived them of jobs. They said they scored higher on the exam than at least three black applicants who were hired.
The city argued that its hiring practices were justified by the settlement, the goals of which had not yet been achieved.
The plaintiffs countered that the settlement had essentially expired, because it was no longer “narrowly tailored” to achieve those goals.
Dismissing the racial discrimination claims, U.S. District Judge David Hurd said city officials “have asserted as a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason their compliance with the affirmative action plan delineated in the consent decree.”
But the three-judge panel in Manhattan reversed, noting that the city offered no evidence about the racial make-up of the labor pool when the disputed hiring decisions were made.
As a result, the Syracuse’s “claim of reliance on the consent decree was entirely inadequate to show a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged hiring decisions,” Judge Amalya Kearse wrote.