Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Friday, November 17, 2006

Disparate Impact - Not An Easy Path

That may be the lesson learned from yesterday's decision in yet another battle over police promotions in Chicago. Adams v. City of Chicago (7th Cir. 11/16/06) [pdf]. The specific fight was over a 1994 examination for promotion to sergeant that was used for promotions in February, 1997. Although all parties conceded that the test did have a disparate impact on minorities, plaintiffs were unsuccessful in finding the use discriminatory, at least according to the 2-1 decision.

The McDonnell Douglas equivalent test for a disparate impact case requires a finding of disparate impact which shifts the burden to the defendant to show that the practice was job related and consistent with business necessity. Just as Chicago conceded there was disparate impact, the officers challenging the practice conceded use of the test was job related and consistent with business necessity.

The success of the case depended on the officers' ability to meet their final burden, that "there was another available method of evaluation which was equally valid and less discriminatory that the employer refused to use.” Although finding that the lower court improperly rejected evidence of Chicago's practices after it stopped use of the test, the majority still felt even with that evidence, the plaintiffs' fell short -- failing to prove Chicago was presented with an equivalent method that it failed to implement.

Fully understanding the decision requires more study of the Chicago police promotion issue than I care to do, although the history of litigation involving at least 9 reported federal decisions over Chicago police department promotions (not counting Adams), certainly would provide some easily available materials. Nevertheless, for those involved in disparate impact case, which frankly are not your every day fare, this case warrants a close reading.


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