Griggs v. Duke Power Company, No. 124

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBURGER
Citation91 S.Ct. 849,28 L.Ed.2d 158,401 U.S. 424
PartiesWillie S. GRIGGS et al., Petitioners, v. DUKE POWER COMPANY
Docket NumberNo. 124
Decision Date08 March 1971

401 U.S. 424
91 S.Ct. 849
28 L.Ed.2d 158
Willie S. GRIGGS et al., Petitioners,

v.

DUKE POWER COMPANY.

No. 124.
Argued Dec. 14, 1970.
Decided March 8, 1971.

Page 425

Jack Greenberg, New York City, for petitioners.

George W. Ferguson, Jr., for respondent.

Lawrence M. Cohen for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, as amicus curiae.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted the writ in this case to resolve the question whether an employer is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, from requiring a high school edu-

Page 426

cation or passing of a standardized general intelligence test as a condition of employment in or transfer to jobs when (a) neither standard is shown to be significantly related to successful job performance, (b) both requirements operate to disqualify Negroes at a substantially higher rate than white applicants, and (c) the jobs in question formerly had been filled only by white employees as part of a longstanding practice of giving preference to whites.1

Congress provided, in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for class actions for enforcement of provisions of the Act and this proceeding was brought by a group of incumbent Negro employees against Duke Power Company. All the petitioners are employed at the Company's Dan River Steam Station, a power generating facility located at Draper, North Carolina. At the time this action was instituted, the Company had 95 employees at the Dan River Station, 14 of whom were Negroes; 13 of these are petitioners here.

The District Court found that prior to July 2, 1965, the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the

Page 427

Company openly discriminated on the basis of race in the hiring and assigning of employees at its Dan River plant. The plant was organized into five operating departments: (1) Labor, (2) Coal Handling, (3) Operations, (4) Maintenance, and (5) Laboratory and Test. Negroes were employed only in the Labor Department where the highest paying jobs paid less than the lowest paying jobs in the other four 'operating' departments in which only whites were employed.2 Promotions were normally made within each department on the basis of job seniority. Transferees into a department usually began in the lowest position.

In 1955 the Company instituted a policy of requiring a high school education for initial assignment to any department except Labor, and for transfer from the Coal Handling to any 'inside' department (Operations, Maintenance, or Laboratory). When the Company abandoned its policy of restricting Negroes to the Labor Department in 1965, completion of high school also was made a prerequisite to transfer from Labor to any other department. From the time the high school requirement was instituted to the time of trial, however, white employees hired before the time of the high school education requirement continued to perform satisfactorily and achieve promotions in the 'operating' departments. Findings on this score are not challenged.

The Company added a further requirement for new employees on July 2, 1965, the date on which Title VII became effective. To qualify for placement in any but the Labor Department it become necessary to register satisfactory scores on two professionally prepared apti-

Page 428

tude tests, as well as to have a high school education. Completion of high school alone continued to render employees eligible for transfer to the four desirable departments from which Negroes had been excluded if the incumbent had been employed prior to the time of the new requirement. In September 1965 the Company began to permit incumbent employees who lacked a high school education to qualify for transfer from Labor or Coal Handling to an 'inside' job by passing two tests—the Wonderlic Personnel Test, which purports to measure general intelligence, and the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test. Neither was directed or intended to measure the ability to learn to perform a particular job or category of jobs. The requisite scores used for both initial hiring and transfer approximated the national median for high school graduates.3

The District Court had found that while the Company previously followed a policy of overt racial discrimination in a period prior to the Act, such conduct had ceased. The District Court also concluded that Title VII was intended to be prospective only and, consequently, the impact of prior inequities was beyond the reach of corrective action authorized by the Act.

The Court of Appeals was confronted with a question of first impression, as are we, concerning the meaning of Title VII. After careful analysis a majority of that court concluded that a subjective test of the employer's intent should govern, particularly in a close case, and that in this case there was no showing of a discriminatory purpose in the adoption of the diploma and test requirements. On this basis, the Court of Appeals concluded there was no violation of the Act.

Page 429

The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court in part, rejecting the holding that residual discrimination arising from prior employment practices was insulated from remedial action.4 The Court of Appeals noted, however, that the District Court was correct in its conclusion that there was no showing of a racial purpose or invidious intent in the adoption of the high school diploma requirement or general intelligence test and that these standards had been applied fairly to whites and Negroes alike. It held that, in the absence of a discriminatory purpose, use of such requirements was permitted by the Act. In so doing, the Court of Appeals rejected the claim that because these two requirements operated to render ineligible a markedly disproportionate number of Negroes, they were unlawful under Title VII unless shown to be job related. 5 We granted the writ on these claims. 399 U.S. 926, 90 S.Ct. 2238, 26 L.Ed.2d 791.

The objective of Congress in the enactment of Title VII is plain from the language of the statute. It was to achieve equality of employment opportunities and re-

Page 430

move barriers that have operated in the past to favor an identifiable group of white employees over other employees. Under the Act, practices, procedures, or tests neutral on their face, and even neutral in terms of intent, cannot be maintained if they operate to 'freeze' the status quo of prior discriminatory employment practices.

The Court of Appeals' opinion, and the partial dissent, agreed that, on the record in the present case, 'whites register far better on the Company's alternative requirements' than Negroes.6 420 F.2d 1225, 1239 n. 6. This consequence would appear to be directly traceable to race. Basic intelligence must have the means of articulation to manifest itself fairly in a testing process. Because they are Negroes, petitioners have long received inferior education in segregated schools and this Court expressly recognized these differences in Gaston County v. United States, 395 U.S. 285, 89 S.Ct. 1720, 23 L.Ed.2d 309 (1969). There, because of the inferior education received by Negroes in North Carolina, this Court barred the institution of a literacy test for voter registration on the ground that the test would abridge the right to vote indirectly on account of race. Congress did not intend by Title VII, however, to guarantee a job to every person regardless of qualifications. In short, the Act does not command that any

Page 431

person be hired simply because he was formerly the subject of discrimination, or because he is a member of a minority group. Discriminatory preference for any group, minority or majority, is precisely and only what Congress has proscribed. What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification.

Congress has now provided that tests or criteria for employment or promotion may not provide equality of opportunity merely in the sense of the fabled offer of milk to the stork and the fox. On the contrary, Congress has now required that the posture and condition of the job-seeker be taken into account. It...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2758 practice notes
  • Hodgson v. Hamilton Municipal Court, No. 7954.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • July 31, 1972
    ...with its administration." Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 16, 85 S.Ct. 792, 801, 13 L.Ed.2d 616 (1965); Griggs v. Duke Power Company, 401 U.S. 424, 434, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971). The Supreme Court said, in Power Reactor Development Co. v. International Union of Electricians, 367 U.......
  • Napreljac v. John Q. Hammons Hotels, Inc., No. 4:05-cv-00160-JEG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • November 8, 2006
    ...origin discrimination. Cf. Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., 414 U.S. 86, 92, 94 S.Ct. 334, 38 L.Ed.2d 287 (1973); Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 Finally, while the EEOC classifies discrimination based on "linguistic characteristics" as unlawful under Ti......
  • Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County, California, No. 85-1129
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 25, 1987
    ...on the basis of race or sex. This Court's prior interpretations of Title VII, especially the decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971), subject employers to a potential Title VII suit whenever there is a noticeable imbalance in the representatio......
  • Logan v. Casino, No. 18-1381
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • September 25, 2019
    ...the language of the statute. It was to achieve equality of employment opportunities and remove barriers ...." Griggs v. Duke Power Co. , 401 U.S. 424, 429–30, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971). In Occidental Life Insurance Co. of California v. EEOC , 432 U.S. 355, 358–59, 97 S.Ct. 2447, 5......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2703 cases
  • Hodgson v. Hamilton Municipal Court, No. 7954.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • July 31, 1972
    ...with its administration." Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 16, 85 S.Ct. 792, 801, 13 L.Ed.2d 616 (1965); Griggs v. Duke Power Company, 401 U.S. 424, 434, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971). The Supreme Court said, in Power Reactor Development Co. v. International Union of Electricians, 367 U.......
  • Napreljac v. John Q. Hammons Hotels, Inc., No. 4:05-cv-00160-JEG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • November 8, 2006
    ...origin discrimination. Cf. Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., 414 U.S. 86, 92, 94 S.Ct. 334, 38 L.Ed.2d 287 (1973); Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 Finally, while the EEOC classifies discrimination based on "linguistic characteristics" as unlawful under Ti......
  • Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County, California, No. 85-1129
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 25, 1987
    ...on the basis of race or sex. This Court's prior interpretations of Title VII, especially the decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971), subject employers to a potential Title VII suit whenever there is a noticeable imbalance in the representatio......
  • Logan v. Casino, No. 18-1381
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • September 25, 2019
    ...the language of the statute. It was to achieve equality of employment opportunities and remove barriers ...." Griggs v. Duke Power Co. , 401 U.S. 424, 429–30, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971). In Occidental Life Insurance Co. of California v. EEOC , 432 U.S. 355, 358–59, 97 S.Ct. 2447, 5......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
56 books & journal articles
  • The Centrality of Exclusion: Legal Impediments to Keeping 'Undesirable' People and Uses Out of the Community
    • United States
    • Land use planning and the environment: a casebook
    • January 23, 2010
    ...discrimination—“because of . . . race . . . or national origin”—is identical to Title VII’s, and since Griggs [v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971)], everyone of the eleven circuits to have considered the issue has held that the FHA similarly prohibits not only intentional housing discrim......
  • Administering the National Environmental Policy Act
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 45-4, April 2015
    • April 1, 2015
    ...nonbinding guidelines interpreting Title VII in a case where EEOC’s interpretation matched the Court’s, see Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1971); to (2) holding that EEOC was entitled to Skidmore deference ( see Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944), discussed supra ......
  • Addressing the Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 3rd Edition
    • November 20, 2014
    ...in the context of claims of employment discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Griggs v. Duke Power Co. , 401 U.S. 424, 28 L. Ed. 2d 158, 91 S. Ct. 849 (1971). In its 1974 decision in Lau v. Nichols , 414 U.S. 563, 39 L. Ed. 2d 1, 94 S. Ct. 786 (1974), the Supreme......
  • Addressing the Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 4th edition
    • February 20, 2018
    ...impact in the context of claims of employment discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 28 L. Ed. 2d 158, 91 S. Ct. 849 (1971). In its 1974 decision in Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563, 39 L. Ed. 2d 1, 94 S. Ct. 786 (1974), the Su......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT