John Kelly and three other police officers brought a lawsuit against the City of New Haven, Connecticut, alleging that the City’s practice of rounding promotional scores to the nearest whole number violated a City charter provision. After the rounding process, the City treated all officers with the same “rounded score” as being equivalent, and ended up promoting officers who had actually received lower examination scores than Kelly.
The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with the officers. The Court began by observing that prior to 1990, police Civil Service examination scores were calculated out to at least two decimal points on a scale of one to a hundred. Around 1972, to address the problem of tie scores, the Civil Service Board adopted a practice of treating candidates receiving tie scores as one “rank” or score group. Tie scores under the raw scoring method, however, were relatively rare.
In 1993, the City changed its scoring methodology and began rounding scores to whole numbers. The frequency of tie scores and the number of candidates sharing the same score dramatically increased as a result of the change in the methodology.
For example, the 2000 eligibility list of 149 candidates eligible for promotion to sergeant reflected raw scores resulting in 139 individual scores, but rounded scores resulting in only one individual score and 20 “groups” of scores ranging in size from two to 22 candidates.
The Court found that the City’s change in methodology resulted in “broad discretion to choose from among a large pool of candidates for each vacancy.” In the Court’s judgment, however, the City’s civil service rules were designed to allow the City “limited discretion in the selection of candidates – in essence, allowing them to pass over a candidate who may lack the personal attributes necessary for the position despite obtaining a passing test score.”
In the eyes of the Court, “when a methodology is implemented that allows for large groups of candidates to be passed over, as under the City’s current methodology, the risk is greatly enhanced that such a methodology may become a subterfuge for discrimination and favoritism in contravention of the purpose of the civil service rules.”
Kelly v. City of New Haven, 2005 WL 2276826 (Conn. 2005).
This article appears in the November 2005 issue