New Haven, Conn. (City), uses objective examinations to identify thosefirefighters best qualified for promotion. When the results of such an exam to fill vacant lieutenant and captain positions showed thatwhite candidates had outperformed minority candidates, a rancorouspublic debate ensued. Confronted with arguments both for and against certifying the test results—and threats of a lawsuit eitherway—the City threw out the results based on the statistical racial disparity. Petitioners, white and Hispanic firefighters who passedthe exams but were denied a chance at promotions by the City’s re-fusal to certify the test results, sued the City and respondent officials,alleging that discarding the test results discriminated against thembased on their race in violation of, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The defendants responded that had they certifiedthe test results, they could have faced Title VII liability for adoptinga practice having a disparate impact on minority firefighters. The District Court granted summary
Under Title VII, before an employer can engage in intentionaldiscrimination for the asserted purpose of avoiding or remedying an unintentional, disparate impact, the employer must have a strong basis in evidence to believe it will be subject to disparate-impact li-ability if it fails to take the race-conscious, discriminatory action. The Court’s analysis begins with the premise that the City’s actions
The racial adverse impact in this litigation was significant, and petitioners do not dispute that the City was faced with a primafacie case of disparate-impact liability. The problem for respondentsis that such a prima facie case—essentially, a threshold showing of a significant statistical disparity, Connecticut v. Teal, 457 U. S. 440, 446, and nothing more—is far from a strong basis in evidence thatthe City would have been liable under Title VII had it certified thetest results. That is because the City could be liable for disparate-impact discrimination only if the exams at issue were not job relatedand consistent with business necessity, or if there existed an equallyvalid, less discriminatory alternative that served the City’s needs but that the City refused to adopt. §§2000e–2(k)(1)(A), (C). Based on the record the parties developed through discovery, there is no substan-tial basis in evidence that the test was deficient in either respect. Pp. 26–28.
Respondents also lack a strong basis in evidence showing an equally valid, less discriminatory testing alternative that the City, bycertifying the test results, would necessarily have refused to adopt.Respondents’ three arguments to the contrary all fail.
Fear of litigation alone cannot justify the City’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations andqualified for promotions.
Discarding the test results was impermis-sible under Title VII, and summary judgment is appropriate for peti-tioners on their disparate-treatment claim. If, after it certifies the test results, the City faces a disparate-impact suit, then in light of today’s holding the City can avoid disparate-impact liability based onthe strong basis in evidence that, had it not certified the results, it would have been subject to disparate-treatment liability