Griggs v. Duke Power Company
GRIGGS V. DUKE POWER COMPANY,
GRIGGS V. DUKE POWER COMPANY, 401 U.S. 424 (1971). Prior to the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited employment discrimination, employers throughout the South and elsewhere in the United States used racial classifications to intentionally discriminate against African Americans in hiring decisions. The 8-0 Supreme Court decision in Griggs established new definitions of employment discrimination, influencing wide-ranging areas of public policy. The issue was whether the new law prohibited Duke Power Company from requiring a high school education and the passing of a standardized general intelligence test as conditions of employment when the standards were not significantly related to job performance. Blacks were disqualified by the standards at a substantially higher rate than white applicants, and the jobs at issue had previously been filled only by whites as part of a long-standing practice of discrimination. The district court had decided that the company's examination program was not intentionally discriminatory.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision, holding that the law prohibited not only overt discrimination but also practices ostensibly "neutral" but discriminatory in operation, such as screening tests, that result in a disparate (unfavorable) impact on blacks. This "disparate impact" precedent established the right to sue under Title VII regardless of discriminatory intent and placed the burden of proof on the employer to show that the conduct was based on "business necessity." The Court shifted the burden of proof back to the plaintiff in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) and Ward's Cove Packing Co., Inc., v. Atonio (1989), but the Civil Rights Act of 1991 reinstated the Griggs theory. Thus, Griggs helped sustain affirmative action programs in the employment field.
Gray, C. Boyden. "Disparate Impact: History and Consequences." Louisiana Law Review 54 (July 1994).
Halpern, Stephen C. On the Limits of the Law: The Ironic Legacy of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.