In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled that the lawsuit clock resets each time an employer uses apparently biased job-qualification tests to make hiring decisions. The court said the timing of Title VII lawsuits doesn’t depend on when the test was administered, but on when the employer uses the test results, even if that’s years later.
The opinion in Lewis v. Chicago could open the litigation floodgates. The case was filed by 6,000 black applicants who sought jobs as firefighters for the city of
In July 1995, the Chicago Fire Department administered an employment test that it now acknowledges was biased against black applicants. It divided the candidates into three groups: “well qualified,” “qualified” and “unqualified.”
The city began hiring from the well-qualified group, 76% of whom were white and 11% black.
But in 1997, a group of black applicants on the qualified list sued, alleging the test had a disparate impact on minorities. The city argued that the plaintiffs had missed the deadline for filing a Title VII lawsuit. The law says applicants must sue within 300 days of an alleged discriminatory act. They filed the lawsuit more than 400 days after learning test results.
Eventually, the case made its way to the Supreme Court.
The High Court was emphatic: The discriminatory event wasn’t when the test was administered. It was when the city used the results to make hiring decisions. By that measure, the applicants had filed their suit in time.
Now the case goes back to be heard in a lower court.
Advice: If you use pre-employment tests, consult your attorney about the implications of the Lewis decision. It (and the landmark 2009 Ricci v. DeStefano decision) could affect your testing program.