This was a case about affirmative action and other efforts to try to increase diversity in workplaces. In this case, the Supreme Court pushed back against such efforts.
This case involved firefighters in New Haven, CT, who took a test to be promoted to management. The test results were such that a many white firefighters would have been promoted while only a few Hispanics and no African Americans would have been promoted. The numbers of people of each group being promoted were out of proportion with the ethnic makeup of the fire department as a whole and of the group who took the test. Because of this result, the New Haven government rejected the test results. The government did not want to use a test that had a racially disparate impact. Some white firefighters, along with one Hispanic, sued the city.
The Supreme Court held that New Haven’s action was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It held that the city would have had to show that it would have been liable to be sued if it had not invalidated the test results. Because, in the opinion of the Court (a 5-4 opinion) New Haven had not shown that it was likely to be held liable, its action was illegal.