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Anne Auer
Kelley School of Business

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, July 13, 2009

New faculty member's research cited in recent Supreme Court decision

July 13, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Like many of his colleagues at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, Herman Aguinis has published his research often in journals and other juried publications -- more than 70 articles so far.

Herman Aguinis

Herman Aguinis

Print-Quality Photo

However, just two days before he joined the acclaimed business school, his work with four colleagues received national attention, being cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in the case of New Haven, Conn., firefighters.

Aguinis, Dean's research professor in Kelley's Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, was among a group of fellows of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology to file an amici curiae brief in Ricci v. DeStefano.

The Ricci case was brought by a group of firefighters claiming that they were the victims of racial discrimination by the city of New Haven. The firefighters -- 17 who are white and one who is Hispanic -- had taken and passed a test required for consideration for management positions within the fire department. The city discovered that few African-Americans had passed the test and invalidated the results due to concern that it would be sued for the test having disparate impact on members of a protected minority.

With a 5-4 decision handed down on June 29, the court held that the city discriminated against the complainants on the basis of their race, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. According to the court's decision, the City of New Haven had to have strong basis in evidence that it would be liable under the disparate impact statute, not just concern that it would be sued.

In their amici brief, Aguinis and his colleagues described the steps, from a scientific standpoint, that the city should have taken to determine whether the test was valid. They argued that that the city did not follow due diligence in evaluating the validity of the test.

"The main point of a test like this one is to understand what people will do in the future. But the test is just the tip of iceberg. You could also look at other predictors of performance such as a job interview or an assessment center to try to predict what a person would do in a management position," said Aguinis, who came to Kelley from the University of Colorado. "Our brief said that the city did not follow the necessary steps, so it did not have enough information to determine the test's validity."

The main goal of this brief, according to Aguinis, was to inform the court regarding science-based best organizational practices. Interestingly, both the opinion and dissent cited ideas from the amici brief.

"The take-home message from this decision is that before you choose to discard test scores in the future, you need to have strong evidence that the test scores are not good at predicting performance," Aguinis explained. He believes that the court's decision will likely be tested again in the near future since it was so narrowly split.

Aguinis holds a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology. His expertise is in organizational behavior, human resource management and research methods and analysis. His main research interests are corporate responsibility, domestic and international diversity and ethics.

"A central goal in my research agenda is to bridge the gap between science and practice," Aguinis explained. "In the medical field it would be unimaginable to find a doctor who is practicing medicine without the most updated medical research. But how many managers make managerial decisions without the latest research from the field? How many executives read the journals from the management field? Producing research that is both rigorous and relevant can help bridge this science-practice gap."