Connecticut v. Teal, 80-2147

Decision Date21 June 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-2147,80-2147
Citation102 S.Ct. 2525,457 U.S. 440,73 L.Ed.2d 130
PartiesCONNECTICUT, et al., Petitioners v. Winnie TEAL et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent black employees of a Connecticut state agency were promoted provisionally to supervisors. To attain permanent status as supervisors, they had to participate in a selection process that required, as a first step, a passing score on a written examination. Subsequently, an examination was given to 48 black and 259 white candidates. Fifty-four percent of the black candidates passed, this being approximately 68 percent of the passing rate for the white candidates. Respondent black employees failed the examination and were thus excluded from further consideration for permanent supervisory positions. They then brought an action in Federal District Court against petitioners (the State of Connecticut and certain state agencies and officials), alleging that petitioners had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requiring, as an absolute condition for consideration for promotion, that applicants pass a written test that disproportionately excluded blacks and was not job related. In the meantime, before trial, petitioners made promotions from the eligibility list, the overall result being that 22.9 percent of the black candidates were promoted but only 13.5 percent of the white candidates. Petitioners urged that this "bottom-line" result, more favorable to blacks than to whites, was a complete defense to the suit. The District Court agreed and entered judgment for petitioners, holding that the "bottom line" percentages precluded the finding of a Title VII violation and that petitioners were not required to demonstrate that the promotional examination was job related. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the District Court erred in ruling that the examination results alone were insufficient to support a prima facie case of disparate impact in violation of Title VII.

Held : Petitioners' nondiscriminatory "bottom line" does not preclude respondents from establishing a prima facie case nor does it provide petitioners with a defense to such a case. Pp. 445-456.

(a) Despite petitioners' nondiscriminatory "bottom line," respondents' claim of disparate impact from the examination, a pass-fail barrier to employment opportunity, states a prima facie case of employment discrimination under § 703(a)(2) of Title VII, which makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to "limit, segregate, or classify his employees" in any way which would deprive "any individual of employ- ment opportunities" because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. To measure disparate impact only at the "bottom line" ignores the fact that Title VII guarantees these individual black respondents the opportunity to compete equally with white workers on the basis of job-related criteria. Respondents' rights under § 703(a)(2) have been violated unless petitioners can demonstrate that the examination in question was not an artificial, arbitrary, or unnecessary barrier but measured skills related to effective performance as a supervisor. Pp. 445-451.

(b) No special haven for discriminatory tests is offered by § 703(h) of Title VII, which provides that it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to act upon results of an ability test if such test is "not designed, intended, or used to discriminate" because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. A nonjob-related test that has a disparate impact and is used to "limit" or "classify" employees is "used to discriminate" within the meaning of Title VII, whether or not it was "designed or intended" to have this effect and despite an employer's efforts to compensate for its discriminatory effect. Pp. 451-452

(c) The principal focus of § 703(a)(2) is the protection of the individual employee, rather than the protection of the minority group as a whole. To suggest that the "bottom line" may be a defense to a claim of discrimination against an individual employee confuses unlawful discrimination with discriminatory intent. Resolution of the factual question of intent is not what is at issue in this case, but rather petitioners seek to justify discrimination against the black respondents on the basis of petitioners' favorable treatment of other members of these respondents' racial group. Congress never intended to give an employer license to discriminate against some employees on the basis of race or sex merely because he favorably treats other members of the employees' group. Pp. 452-456

2nd Cir., 645 F.2d 133, affirmed and remanded.

Bernard F. McGovern, Jr., Hartford, Conn., for petitioners.

Thomas W. Bucci, Bridgeport, Conn., for respondents.

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider here whether an employer sued for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 1 may assert a "bottom-line" theory of defense. Under that theory, as asserted in this case, an employer's acts of racial discrimination in promotions—effected by an examination having disparate impact would not render the employer liable for the racial discrimination suffered by employees barred from promotion if the "bottom-line" result of the promotional process was an appropriate racial balance. We hold that the "bottom line" does not preclude respondent employees from establishing a prima facie case, nor does it provide petitioner employer with a defense to such a case.

I

Four of the respondents, Winnie Teal, Rose Walker, Edith Latney, and Grace Clark, are black employees of the Department of Income Maintenance of the State of Connecticut.2 Each was promoted provisionally to the position of Welfare Eligibility Supervisor and served in that capacity for almost two years. To attain permanent status as supervisors, however, respondents had to participate in a selection process that required, as the first step, a passing score on a written examination. This written test was administered on December 2, 1978, to 329 candidates. Of these candidates, 48 identified themselves as black and 259 identified themselves as white. The results of the examination were announced in March 1979. With the passing score set at 65,3 54.17 percent of the identified black candidates passed. This was approximately 68 percent of the passing rate for the identified white candidates.4 The four respondents were among the blacks who failed the examination, and they were thus excluded from further consideration for permanent supervisory positions. In April 1979, respondents instituted this action in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut against petitioners, the State of Connecticut, two state agencies, and two state officials. Respondents alleged, inter alia, that petitioners violated Title VII by imposing, as an absolute condition for consideration for promotion, that applicants pass a written test that excluded blacks in disproportionate numbers and that was not job related.

More than a year after this action was instituted, and approximately one month before trial, petitioners made promotions from the eligibility list generated by the written examination. In choosing persons from that list, petitioners considered past work performance, recommendations of the candidates' supervisors and, to a lesser extent, seniority. Petitioners then applied what the Court of Appeals characterized as an affirmative-action program in order to ensure a significant number of minority supervisors.5 Forty-six persons were promoted to permanent supervisory positions, 11 of whom were black and 35 of whom were white. The overall result of the selection process was that, of the 48 identified black candidates who participated in the selection process, 22.9 percent were promoted and of the 259 identified white candidates, 13.5 percent were promoted.6 It is this "bottom-line" result, more favorable to blacks than to whites, that petitioners urge should be adjudged to be a complete defense to respondents' suit.

After trial, the District Court entered judgment for petitioners. App. to Pet. for Cert. 18a. The court treated respondents' claim as one of disparate impact under Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971), Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 45 L.Ed.2d 280 (1975), and Dothard v. Rawlinson, 433 U.S. 321, 97 S.Ct. 2720, 53 L.Ed.2d 786 (1977). However, the court found that, although the comparative passing rates for the examination indicated a prima facie case of adverse impact upon minorities, the result of the entire hiring process reflected no such adverse impact. Holding that these "bottom-line" percentages precluded the finding of a Title VII violation, the court held that the employer was not required to demonstrate that the promotional examination was job related. App. to Pet. for Cert. 22a-24a, 26a. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that the District Court erred in ruling that the results of the written examination alone were insufficient to support a prima facie case of disparate impact in violation of Title VII. 645 F.2d 133 (1981). The Court of Appeals stated that where "an identifiable pass-fail barrier denies an employment opportunity to a disproportionately large number of minorities and prevents them from proceeding to the next step in the selection process," that barrier must be shown to be job related. Id., at 138. We granted certiorari, 454 U.S. 813, 102 S.Ct. 89, 70 L.Ed.2d 82 (1981), and now affirm.

II
A.

We must first decide whether an examination that bars a disparate number of black employees from consideration for promotion, and that has not been shown to be job related, presents a claim cognizable under Title VII. Section 703(a)(2) of Title VII provides in pertinent part:

"It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer—

* * * * *

"(2) to limit,...

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