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Meditz v. City of Newark, No. 10-2442 (3d Cir. Sept. 28, 2011)

A pro se plaintiff wins a victory in the Third Circuit, reversing summary judgment on his Title VII claim that Newark, New Jersey's residency requirement for city employment has a disparate impact on non-Latino white job applicants.

Meditz v. City of Newark, No. 10-2442 (3d Cir. Sept. 28, 2011): Title VII, as amended by Congress by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, bars the use of employment policies that have a disparate (discriminatory) impact on employees on the basis of race, sex or other protected categories, unless the policy is shown to be job-related and is otherwise supported by a "business necessity" (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)). 

One does not often see reverse-race disparate impact cases, but here a white lawyer (litigating the case individually, pro se) challenged the city's failure to hire him as a housing development analyst because he lives outside city limits.

"Meditz alleges that the residency requirement adopted by Newark for its non-uniformed work force has a disparate impact on white, non-Hispanics because Newark's population does not reflect the racial make-up of the relevant labor market in the surrounding area. As a result, white, non- Hispanics are under-represented in Newark‟s non-uniformed work force."

Notably, the ordinance did not apply to uniformed officers, and city agencies could grant waivers even to non-uniformed employees; under the waivers, "185 non-uniformed employees reside outside of Newark, in 82 different municipalities, including some in other states."

The district court denied the claim at the summary judgment stage, holding that the plaintiff failed to establish that there was a disparate impact against whites and, alternatively, that the city had a business necessity to its policy generally limiting city employment to city residents.

The Third Circuit reverses, finding that the district court failed to give a rationale to support its holdings.

First, the district court bobbled the issue of the correct labor market to use for statistical comparison purposes. Meditz compared the racial composition of Newark's city employee population to those of the general population of the city and "the ethnic composition of government employees and the private labor force in each of the surrounding [six] counties."

The district court held that there was no need to range beyond the city limits of Newark to locate the appropriate labor market, provided that the city hired some number of white employees (i.e. that the number of protected-group employees was not a virtual zero). But the Third Circuit reverses, holding the district court had an obligation to "conduct a complete and correct statistical analysis, comparing the makeup of Newark's non-uniformed labor force with the similarly skilled labor force in the relevant labor market."

Second, the district court erred in holding, without explanation, that the statistics did not establish a significant disparity - despite that the statistical analysis revealed a difference of slightly over six standard deviations (courts generally finding two to three standard deviations to be enough):

"[T]he District Court concluded that Meditz failed to prove his prima facie case because the difference between the percentage of white, non-Hispanics employed by the city (9.24%) compared to the percentage of white, non-Hispanics living in the city (14.2%), did 'not constitute sufficient evidence of a significantly discriminatory hiring pattern.' Meditz, 2010 WL 1529612, at *3. Given this bald conclusion, it is not clear what methodology or statistical analysis the District Court employed. Notably, the District Court made no reference to the standard deviation analysis recommended by the Supreme Court."

Finally, the Third Circuit holds that the district court erred on the "business necessity" defense by applying a weaker, pre-1991 Act standard to the analysis. " . . . Newark provides scant support or explanation for its proffered business necessities. On remand, if the District Court reaches the question of business necessity, it should analyze the evidence offered by Newark in support of its position, and not simply conclude that '[t]his Court is satisfied that Defendant has objectively demonstrated a nexus between its residency ordinance and its employment goals.' Meditz, 2010 WL 1529612, at *4."

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