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Court expands civil rights time limit

WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that unsuccessful black Chicago firefighter applicants can sue for bias even though a time limit had lapsed.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court said even though the applicants had claimed violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act after the 300 days specified in the act, bias could be claimed each time the policy was applied to a new class of applicants.

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Chicago gave a written examination to firefighter applicants in 1995, and in January 1996 said it would only consider candidates who had scored at least an 89 out of 100 points, or "well-qualified" applicants. "Qualified" applicants, who scored between 65 and 88, would be kept on a list but it was unlikely they would be hired.

The city repeated the process multiple times.

A group of black applicants who had scored as "qualified" sued under the Civil Rights Act, saying the policy had an illegal "disparate impact" on black applicants. A federal judge agreed, ruling for the applicants, but a federal appeals court said they had brought their complaints too late -- more than 300 days after the 1995 policy was implemented.

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The Supreme Court reversed.

"It is not our task to assess the consequences of each approach and adopt the one that produces the least mischief," Scalia wrote. "Our charge is to give effect to the law Congress enacted."

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