Furnco Construction Corporation v. Waters

Decision Date29 June 1978
Docket NumberNo. 77-369,77-369
Citation57 L.Ed.2d 957,98 S.Ct. 2943,438 U.S. 567
PartiesFURNCO CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION, Petitioner, v. William WATERS et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner corporation specializes in relining blast furnaces with "firebrick." It maintains no permanent force of bricklayers but delegates to the superintendent of a particular job the task of hiring a work force. Respondents, three black bricklayers, sought employment with petitioner on a particular job, but two of them, though fully qualified, were never offered employment, and the third was hired only long after he had initially applied. The job superintendent, pursuant to industry practice, did not accept applications at the jobsite but hired only bricklayers who he knew were experienced and competent or who had been recommended to him as similarly skilled. Respondents brought suit against petitioner claiming employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court held, inter alia, that respondents had not proved a case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668, and that petitioner's hiring practices were justified as a "business necessity" in that they were required for the safe and efficient operation of petitioner's business. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondents had made out a prima facie case of employment discrimination under McDonnell Douglas, which petitioner had not effectively rebutted. Disagreeing with the District Court's finding that petitioner's hiring practices were justified as a business necessity, the Court of Appeals devised a hiring procedure whereby petitioner would take written applications, with inquiry as to qualifications and experience, and then check, evaluate, and compare those claims against the qualifications and experience of other bricklayers with whom the superintendent was already acquainted, thereby allowing petitioner to consider the qualifications of more minority applicants. Held: The Court of Appeals erred in its treatment of the nature of the evidence necessary to rebut a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas, and in substituting its own judgment as to the prope hiring practices for an employer who claims its hiring practices do not violate Title VII. Pp. 575-580.

(a) While the Court of Appeals was justified in concluding that as a matter of law respondents had made out a prima facie case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas, the court went awry in apparently equating such a prima facie showing with an ultimate finding of fact as to discriminatory refusal to hire under Title VII, and the court's imposition of a hiring method enabling the employer to consider, and perhaps to hire, more minority employees finds no support in either the nature of the prima facie case or Title VII's purpose. Courts may not impose such a remedy on an employer at least until a violation of Title VII has been proved, and here none had been proved under the reasoning of either the District Court or the Court of Appeals. Pp. 575-578.

(b) The Court of Appeals also appears improperly to have concluded that once a McDonnell Douglas prima facie showing had been made out, statistics offered by petitioner to show that its work force was racially balanced were totally irrelevant to the question of motive. A McDonnell Douglas showing is not the equivalent of a factual finding of discrimination but simply proof of actions taken by the employer from which discriminatory animus can be inferred because experience has proved that in the absence of any other explanation it is more likely than not those actions were based on impermissible considerations. The employer, therefore, must be allowed some latitude to introduce evidence bearing on his motive. Thus, although petitioner's statistics were not and could not be sufficient to demonstrate conclusively that its actions were not discriminatorily motivated, the District Court was entitled to consider the racial mix of the work force when making a determination as to motivation, and the Court of Appeals should likewise give similar consideration to such proof in any further proceedings. Pp. 579-580.

551 F.2d 1085, reversed and remanded.

Joel H. Kaplan, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

Judson H. Miner, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents are three black bricklayers who sought employment with petitioner Furnco Construction Corp. Two of the three were never offered employment. The third was employed only long after he initially applied. Upon adverse findings entered after a bench trial, the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that respondents had not proved a claim under either the "disparate treatment" theory of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), or the "disparate impact" theory of Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971). The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, concluding that under McDonnell Douglas respondents had made out a prima facie case which had not been effectively rebutted, reversed the judgment of the District Court. 551 F.2d 1085 (1977). We granted certiorari to consider important questions raised by this case regarding the exact scope of the prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas and the nature of the evidence necessary to rebut such a case. 434 U.S. 996, 98 S.Ct. 632, 54 L.Ed.2d 490 (1977). Having concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in its treatment of the latter question, we reverse and remand to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

A few facts in this case are not in serious dispute. Petitioner Furnco, an employer within the meaning of §§ 701(b) and (h) of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(b) and (h) (1970 ed., Supp. V), specializes in refractory installation in steel mills and, more particularly, the rehabilitation or relining of blast furnaces with what is called in the trade "firebrick." Furnco does not, however, maintain a permanent force of bricklayers. Rath r, it hires a superintendent for a specific job and then delegates to him the task of securing a competent work force. In August 1971, Furnco contracted with Interlake, Inc., to reline one of its blast furnaces. Joseph Dacies, who had been a job superintendent for Furnco since 1965, was placed in charge of the job and given the attendant hiring responsibilities. He did not accept applications at the jobsite, but instead hired only persons whom he knew to be experienced and competent in this type of work or persons who had been recommended to him as similarly skilled. He hired his first four bricklayers, all of whom were white, on two successive days in August, the 26th and 27th, and two in September, the 7th and 8th. On September 9 he hired the first black bricklayer. By September 13, he had hired 8 more bricklayers, 1 of whom was black; by September 17, 7 more had been employed, another of whom was black; and by September 23, 17 more were on the payroll, again with 1 black included in that number.1 From October 12 to 18, he hired 6 bricklayers, all of whom were black, including respondent Smith, who had worked for Dacies previously and had applied at the jobsite somewhat earlier. Respondents Samuels and Nemhard were not hired, though they were fully qualified and had also attempted to secure employment by appearing at the jobsite gate. Out of the total of 1,819 man-days worked on the Interlake job, 242, or 13.3%, were worked by black bricklayers.

Many of the remaining facts found by the District Court and the inferences to be drawn therefrom are in some dispute between the parties, but none was expressly found by the Court of Appeals to be clearly erroneous. The District Court elaborated at some length as to the "critical" necessity of insuring that only experienced and highly qualified fire- bricklayers were employed. Improper or untimely work would result in substantial losses both to Interlake, which was forced to shut down its furnace and lay off employees during the relining job, and to Furnco, which was paid for this work at a fixed price and for a fixed time period. In addition, not only might shoddy work slow this work process down, but it also might necessitate costly future maintenance work with its attendant loss of production and employee layoffs; diminish Furnco's reputation and ability to secure similar work in the future; and perhaps even create serious safety hazards, leading to explosions and the like. App. to Pet. for Cert. A13-A15. These considerations justified Furnco's refusal to engage in on-the-job training or to hire at the gate, a hiring process which would not provide an adequate method of matching qualified applications to job requirements and assuring that the applicants are sufficiently skilled and capable. Id., at A18-A19. Furthermore, there was no evidence that these policies and practices were a pretext to exclude black bricklayers or were otherwise illegitimate or had a disproportionate impact or effect on black bricklayers. Id., at A17-A18. From late 1969 through late 1973, 5.7% of the bricklayers in the relevant labor force were minority group members, see 41 CFR § 60-11 et seq. (1977),2 while, as mentioned before 13.3% of the man-days on Furnco's Interlake job were worked by black bricklayers.

Because of the above considerations and following the established practice in the industry, most of the firebricklayers hired by Dacies were persons known by him to be experienced and competent in this type of work. The others were hired after being recommended as skilled in this type of work by his general foreman, an employee (a black), another Furnco superintendent in the area, and Furnco's General Manager John Wright. Wright had not only instructed Dacies to employ, as far as possible, at...

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