The federal district court that first considered Mr. Ricci’s claims exhaustively reviewed the facts and allegations and determined that Ricci’s lawsuit was foreclosed by settled law. The racially disparate results of the test far exceeded the statistical cut-off indicating that a Title VII violation had occurred, and the district court found that when the City decided not to use the results of the promotion exam, it was trying to comply with Title VII’s prohibition on the use of employment tests that have such a disparate racial impact. Rather than discriminating against the white test-takers, the City was simply trying to find a promotion test that would be fair to all applicants as required by federal law. The court held that this attempt to ensure a fair promotion process and comply with Title VII was not equivalent to discrimination and was not intentional discrimination against the white plaintiffs in violation of equal protection.
On appeal in the Second Circuit, a three-judge panel, including Judge Sotomayor, unanimously agreed with the district court. In a brief order, later published, the panel affirmed the dismissal of Ricci’s case “for the reasons stated in the thorough, thoughtful, and well-reasoned opinion of the court below.” The judges expressly stated that “[w]e are not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs’ expression of frustration,” noting that Mr. Ricci is dyslexic and had “made intensive efforts that appear to have resulted in his scoring highly on one of the exams, only to have it invalidated.” But no matter how sympathetic Mr. Ricci’s claims, “it simply does not follow that he has a viable Title VII claim.” However heartless the City’s refusal to act on the exam results may have seemed to the plaintiffs and their supporters, New Haven was “simply trying to fulfill its obligations under Title VII when confronted with test results that had a disproportionate racial impact” and its actions were protected by law. In other words, the case wasn’t about how sympathetic Mr. Ricci was—it was about the law.