Supreme Court to Hear LDF Employment Discrimination Case

Sep 30, 2009, 11:01 ET from NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear Lewis v. City of Chicago, involving fair access to courts for employees who seek to vindicate their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, our nation's key safeguard against discrimination in the workplace.

"This case will determine whether job applicants that a court has determined are victims of discrimination will be denied an effective remedy," said John Payton, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) President and Director-Counsel. "The Supreme Court should apply a common-sense reading of Title VII and hold that discrimination occurs each time an employer uses a selection practice that unfairly excludes qualified African American applicants for a job."

LDF and co-counsel represent a class of over 6,000 African Americans who applied for firefighter positions. In 2005, a federal trial court found that the City violated Title VII by using a firefighter hiring exam that illegally discriminated against the Lewis plaintiffs. There is no longer an issue as to whether or not there was racial discrimination here. The trial court found that there was and that ruling has not been appealed.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, however, reversed the trial court's judgment on a technicality. The Court of Appeals decided that the applicants filed their claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) too late. According to the Court of Appeals, the firefighters were required to file their EEOC claims within 300 days after Chicago first announced the test results.

LDF believes the Court of Appeals misinterpreted Title VII. The statute should be read to permit plaintiffs to file a challenge after each use of an employment practice that has a disparate impact on individuals of a particular race. This interpretation is more faithful to Title VII's text. It is also fairer to employees, who should have the chance to see how an employment policy works in practice before deciding whether they want to charge an employer with discrimination.

The United States Solicitor General has filed a brief in the Supreme Court supporting the arguments of the Lewis plaintiffs.


The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) is America's legal counsel on issues of race. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF focuses on issues of education, voter protection, economic justice and criminal justice. We encourage students to embark on careers in the public interest through scholarships and internship programs. LDF pursues racial justice to move our nation toward a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all.

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SOURCE NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund