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Civil Rights Appellate Clinic students thrilled with logic in Lewis v. City of Chicago

When Penn State Law students read the recent decision on Lewis v. City of Chicago, it all sounded familiar. The Court’s decision followed the logic laid out in an amicus brief filed on behalf of national civil rights groups. The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic worked with a team of counsel in drafting this brief which was filed in the United States Supreme Court and in helped prepare counsel for the oral argument in the case.

"The fact that the Court relied on arguments contained in our brief in making its decision shows how important the Clinic’s work is,” said Matthew Vodzak '10.

Released on May 24, the unanimous decision held that a group of African American firefighters did not wait too long to file a claim against the City of Chicago over a written exam that they challenged as discriminatory. The Court held that the plaintiffs’ disparate impact challenge was timely because the charge of discrimination was filed within 300 days of the employer’s application of the alleged discriminatory employment practice. Rejecting the Seventh Circuit's holding that the plaintiffs were required to challenge the practice when the City first released the list announcing its intention to use the test, the Court distinguished disparate treatment claims which would require proof of discriminatory intent within the limitations period.

“Working on the Lewis brief presented another great opportunity for the Clinic and its students. The Court’s decision will help shield employees from discriminatory practices that recur over time, and will ensure that the Civil Rights Act is effectuated to its fullest extent. The fact that the Court was unanimous in its support for Mr. Lewis’s position has made this experience even more rewarding,” said Danya Ahmed '10.

"It was very exciting to read the unanimous Supreme Court opinion and to see how the Court analyzed the issues, addressing the very same hard questions that the clinic students debated as they wrote their section of the amicus brief,” said Michael Foreman, clinical professor and director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic. “It is especially gratifying that all the justices accepted the arguments made on behalf of Mr. Lewis and the class he represents,” Foreman added.


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