The US Supreme Court dealt a blow to minorities who contend they are victims of on-the-job discrimination, making it easier for employers to refute claims of racial bias. The 5-4 ruling Monday said when minorities allege that statistics show they are victims of bias, employers do not have to prove their practice is nondiscriminatory, only that there is a legitimate reason for apparently neutral business practices.

In a sharply worded dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the ruling ``retreats'' from 18 years of court decisions aimed at helping minorities who are victimized by discrimination that may be unintentional.

In other action, the court ruled 9-0, in a victory for artists and authors, that a homeless-rights group, the Community for Creative Non-Violence, does not own exclusively the copyright to a sculpture it commissioned an artist to create.

The justices ordered further lower court hearings to determine whether the group and its founder, Mitch Snyder, may share in the copyright of a work by James Earl Reid of Baltimore entitled ``Third World America.''

Also, the court without comment cleared the way for the trial of junk-bond specialist Michael Milken and removed a major obstacle to a $650 million settlement by his former employer, Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., to investors and the federal treasury.

The justices rejected the appeal by Mr. Milken and two co-defendants to disqualify US District Judge Milton Pollack in New York City from their case. The defendants contended that Judge Pollack had a conflict of interest because his wife is receiving $30 million from the sale of a corporation financed by Drexel.

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