Griggs v Duke Power Co & the 1964 Civil Rights ActHistorical
In Griggs v Duke Power Co, 401 U.S. 424 (1971), the U.S. Supreme Court held that aptitude tests used by employers that disparately impact ethnic minority groups must be reasonably related to the job. Otherwise, they run afoul of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Facts of Griggs v Duke Power Co
African American workers at Duke Energy Co.’s generating plant filed a lawsuit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, challenging the company’s requirement of a high school diploma or passing of intelligence tests as a condition of employment in or transfer to jobs at the plant. These requirements were not directed at or intended to measure the ability to learn to perform a particular job or category of jobs.
Section 703(a) of the Act makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to limit, segregate, or classify employees to deprive them of employment opportunities or adversely to affect their status because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Meanwhile, Section 703(h) authorizes the use of any professionally developed ability test, provided that it is not designed, intended, or used to discriminate.
The District Court found that Duke Energy’s former policy of racial discrimination had ended and that Title VII, being prospective only, did not reach the prior inequities. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, rejecting the holding that residual discrimination arising from prior practices was insulated from the remedial action, but agreed with the lower court that there was no showing of discriminatory purpose in the adoption of the diploma and test requirements. It held that absent such discriminatory purpose, use of the requirements was permitted, and rejected the claim that, because a disproportionate number of African Americans was rendered ineligible for promotion, transfer, or employment, the requirements were unlawful unless shown to be job-related.
Supreme Court’s Opinion in Griggs v Duke Power Co
The Supreme Court unanimously held that Duke Power’s high school graduation requirement and aptitude tests violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger authored the opinion.
In its opinion, the Court emphasized that Title VII aimed to achieve equality of employment opportunities. Chief Justice Burger explained:
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 has — to resort again to the fable — provided that the vessel in which the milk is proffered be one all seekers can use.
The Court went on to hold that the while Title VII “does not preclude the use of testing or measuring procedures,” it does “proscribe giving them controlling force unless they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance.” Chief Justice Burger further noted:
The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination, but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation. The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited.
With regard to Duke Energy, the Court held that its employment practices violated the statute. The Chief Justice wrote:
On the record before us, neither the high school completion requirement nor the general intelligence test is shown to bear a demonstrable relationship to successful performance of the jobs for which it was used. Both were adopted, as the Court of Appeals noted, without meaningful study of their relationship to job performance ability. Rather, a vice-president of the Company testified, the requirements were instituted on the Company’s judgment that they generally would improve the overall quality of the workforce.
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Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.