The City of New Haven, Connecticut and the group of white and Hispanic firefighters who brought a reverse race discrimination lawsuit against it have reached a settlement. The firefighters sued New Haven because the city refused to certify the results of a promotional exam in 2004 due to its fear that the exam unlawfully screened out African Americans.
This case was made famous during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals when it ruled against the white and Hispanic firefighters. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overruled the Second Circuit and handed victory to the firefighters.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the firefighters will receive $2 million and 3 years of pension credit. Their attorneys will receive $3 million to pay for their fees and expenses. Federal and state employment discrimination laws require employers who unlawfully discriminate to pay their victims’ attorneys’ fees. This is an important characteristic of these laws. If employers who discriminate did not have to pay their victims’ attorneys’ fees, many victims with meritorious cases would not bring their cases because of the costs associated with them–and discrimination would go unchecked.