American Tobacco Company v. Patterson, No. 80-1199

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE
Citation71 L.Ed.2d 748,456 U.S. 63,102 S.Ct. 1534
Decision Date05 April 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-1199
PartiesAMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY, et al., Petitioners, v. John PATTERSON, et al

456 U.S. 63
102 S.Ct. 1534
71 L.Ed.2d 748
AMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY, et al., Petitioners,

v.

John PATTERSON, et al.

No. 80-1199.
Argued Jan. 19, 1981.
Decided April 5, 1982.
Syllabus

Section 703(h) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that "it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority or merit system, . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Actions were brought in Federal District Court by black employees of petitioner employer and by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that certain lines of progression for job advancement established by the employer in agreement with petitioner labor union after the effective date of the Act constituted a racially discriminatory seniority system in violation of Title VII of the Act. The actions were consolidated for trial and injunctive relief was initially granted, but ultimately the Court of Appeals, without deciding whether the lines of progression were part of a seniority system, held that even if they were, § 703(h) does not apply to seniority systems adopted after the effective date of the Act.

Held: Section 703(h) is not limited to seniority systems adopted before the effective date of the Act. To construe it as so limited is contrary to § 703(h)'s plain language, inconsistent with this Court's prior cases, and counter to the national labor policy. And there is nothing in the legislative history to indicate that § 703(h) does not protect post-Act adoption of a bona fide seniority system or that Congress intended to distinguish between adoption and application of such a system. Pp. 1537-1542.

634 F.2d 744 (4th Cir.), vacated and remanded.

Henry T. Wickham, Richmond, Va., for petitioners American Tobacco Co., et al.

Page 64

Ronald Rosenberg, Washington, D. C., for petitioner Unions.

Henry L. Marsh, III, Richmond, Va., for respondents John Patterson, et al.

David A. Strauss, Washington, D. C., for respondent E.E.O.C., pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971), a prima facie violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp.IV), "may be established by policies or practices that are neutral on their face and in intent but that nonetheless discriminate in effect against a particular group." Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 349, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 1861, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977). A seniority system "would seem to fall under the Griggs rationale" if it were not for § 703(h) of the Civil Rights Act. Ibid. That section, as set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h), provides in pertinent part:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority or merit

Page 65

system, . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, nor shall it be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to give and to act upon the results of any professionally developed ability test provided that such test, its administration or action upon the results is not designed, intended or used to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. . . ."

Under § 703(h), the fact that a seniority system has a discriminatory impact is not alone sufficient to invalidate the system; actual intent to discriminate must be proved. The Court of Appeals in this case, however, held that § 703(h) does not apply to seniority systems adopted after the effective date of the Civil Rights Act.1 We granted the petition for certiorari to address the validity of this construction of the section. 452 U.S. 937, 101 S.Ct. 3078, 69 L.Ed.2d 951 (1982).

I

Petitioner American Tobacco Co. operates two plants in Richmond, Va., one which manufactures cigarettes and one which manufactures pipe tobacco. Each plant is divided into a prefabrication department, which blends and prepares tobacco for further processing, and a fabrication department, which manufactures the final product. Petitioner Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers' International Union and its affiliate Local 182 are the exclusive collective-bargaining agents for hourly paid production workers at both plants.

It is uncontested that prior to 1963 the company and the union engaged in overt race discrimination. The union maintained two segregated locals, and black employees were assigned to jobs in the lower paying prefabrication departments. Higher paying jobs in the fabrication departments

Page 66

were largely reserved for white employees. An employee could transfer from one of the predominately black prefabrication departments to one of the predominately white fabrication departments only by forfeiting his seniority.

In 1963, under pressure from Government procurement agencies enforcing the antidiscrimination obligations of Government contractors, the company abolished departmental seniority in favor of plantwide seniority and the black union local was merged into the white local. However, promotions were no longer based solely on seniority but rather on seniority plus certain qualifications, and employees lost accumulated seniority in the event of a transfer between plants. Between 1963 and 1968, when this promotions policy was in force, virtually all vacancies in the fabrication departments were filled by white employees due to the discretion vested in supervisors to determine who was qualified.

In November 1968, the company proposed the establishment of nine lines of progression, six of which are at issue in this case. The union accepted and ratified the lines of progression in 1969. Each line of progression generally consisted of two jobs. An employee was not eligible for the top job in the line until he had worked in a bottom job. Four of the six lines of progression at issue here consisted of nearly all-white top jobs from the fabrication departments linked with nearly all-white bottom jobs from the fabrication departments; the other two consisted of all-black top jobs from the prefabrication departments linked with all-black bottom jobs from the prefabrication departments. The top jobs in the white lines of progression were among the best paying jobs in the plants.

On January 3, 1969, respondent Patterson and two other black employees filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that petitioners had discriminated against them on the basis of race. The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that petitioners' seniority, wage, and job classification practices violated Title VII.

Page 67

After conciliation efforts failed, the employees filed a class action in District Court in 1973 charging petitioners with racial discrimination in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Their suit was consolidated for trial with a subsequent Title VII action filed by the EEOC alleging both race and sex discrimination. Following trial, the District Court held that petitioners' seniority, promotion, and job classification practices violated Title VII. The court found that six of the nine lines of progression were not justified by business necessity and "perpetuated past discrimination on the basis of sex and race." App. 32. The court enjoined the company and the union from further use of the six lines of progression. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed and remanded for further proceedings with respect to remedy, Patterson v. American Tobacco Co., 535 F.2d 257 (1976), and we denied a petition for certiorari. 429 U.S. 920, 97 S.Ct. 314, 50 L.Ed.2d 286 (1976).

On remand petitioners moved to vacate the District Court's 1974 orders and to dismiss the complaints on the basis of this Court's decision in Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977), which held that § 703(h) insulates bona fide seniority systems from attack even though they may have discriminatory impact on minorities. The District Court denied the motions, holding that petitioners' seniority system "is not a bona fide system under Teamsters . . . because this system operated right up to the day of trial in a discriminatory manner." App. 110. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals agreed that "Teamsters requires no modification of the relief we approved with regard to . . . lines of progression . . .," because they were not part of a seniority system within the meaning of § 703(h). 586 F.2d 300, 303 (4th Cir. 1978).

The Court of Appeals reheard the case en banc. It did not decide whether the lines of progression were part of a seniority system. Instead, it held that even if the lines of progression were considered part of a seniority system, "Congress intended the immunity accorded seniority systems by

Page 68

§ 703(h) to run only to those systems in existence at the time of Title VII's effective date, and of course to routine post-Act applications of such systems." 634 F.2d 744, 749 (4th Cir. 1980).2 We reverse.

II

Petitioners argue that the plain language of § 703(h) applies to post-Act as well as pre-Act seniority systems. The respondent employees claim that the provision "provides a narrow exemption [from the ordinary discriminatory impact test] which was specifically designed to protect bona fide seniority systems which were in existence before the effective date of Title VII." Brief for Respondent Patterson et al. 29. Respondent EEOC supports the judgment below, but urges us...

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  • U.S. v. State , No. 10–16645.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 11, 2011
    ...the federal immigration establishment. 9. We strive to read Congress's enactments in a reasonable manner. Am. Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 71, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982) (“Statutes should be interpreted to avoid untenable distinctions and unreasonable results whenever p......
  • Boston Chapter, NAACP v. Beecher, Nos. 81-1642
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 11, 1982
    ...United States, 431 U.S. 324, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977), and American Tobacco Co., et al. v. Patterson, et al., --- U.S. ----, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982). In Franks the district court had found that the employer had discriminated in making hiring, transfer, and discharg......
  • Concepcion v. Morton, No. CIV.A.98-3681(MLC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • December 21, 2000
    ...of the words used,' Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 9, 82 S.Ct. 585, 7 L.Ed.2d 492 (1962)." American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 68, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982); accord Government of V.I. v. Knight, 989 F.2d 619, 633 (3d Section 1997e(a) of Title 42, as amended i......
  • U.S. v. McGlory, Nos. 90-3604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 19, 1992
    ..."our starting point [in cases of statutory construction] must be the language employed by Congress." American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 68, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 1537, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982) (quotation omitted). The text of 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(b)(1)(A) provides for a mandatory life sent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
623 cases
  • U.S. v. State , No. 10–16645.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 11, 2011
    ...the federal immigration establishment. 9. We strive to read Congress's enactments in a reasonable manner. Am. Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 71, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982) (“Statutes should be interpreted to avoid untenable distinctions and unreasonable results whenever p......
  • Boston Chapter, NAACP v. Beecher, Nos. 81-1642
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 11, 1982
    ...United States, 431 U.S. 324, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977), and American Tobacco Co., et al. v. Patterson, et al., --- U.S. ----, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982). In Franks the district court had found that the employer had discriminated in making hiring, transfer, and discharg......
  • Concepcion v. Morton, No. CIV.A.98-3681(MLC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • December 21, 2000
    ...of the words used,' Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 9, 82 S.Ct. 585, 7 L.Ed.2d 492 (1962)." American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 68, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982); accord Government of V.I. v. Knight, 989 F.2d 619, 633 (3d Section 1997e(a) of Title 42, as amended i......
  • U.S. v. McGlory, Nos. 90-3604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 19, 1992
    ..."our starting point [in cases of statutory construction] must be the language employed by Congress." American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 68, 102 S.Ct. 1534, 1537, 71 L.Ed.2d 748 (1982) (quotation omitted). The text of 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(b)(1)(A) provides for a mandatory life sent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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