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Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney


PERSONNEL ADMINISTRATOR OF MASSACHUSETTS V. FEENEY, 442 U.S. 256 (1979), a Supreme Court case that considered whether a Massachusetts law giving veterans a lifetime preference in filling open civil service positions discriminated against women in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Helen B. Feeney was a civil servant who received higher grades on civil service examinations than male veterans. Because of the preference law, however, males repeatedly were promoted over her. Twice the federal district court declared the law unconstitutional. The state of Massachusetts, supported by the solicitor general of the United States, appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court in a seven-to-two decision sustained the law.

A basic question was whether the effect of the preference classification was "purposeful discrimination." It was generally agreed that the statute disproportionately affected women. Until 1967 there had been a 2 percent quota on women in the military. Male nonveterans, however, suffered from this preferred treatment as much as female nonveterans. Because it distinguished between veterans and nonveterans, not between women and men, the Court detected no discriminatory purpose in the statute. The opinion raised the standard for proving gender discrimination by obliging plantiffs to prove that the legislature that drafted the statute in question specifically intended the law to achieve the foreseeable discriminatory outcome.


Hoff, Joan. Law, Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

Rosenblum, Bruce E. "Discriminatory Purpose and Disproportionate Impact: An Assessment after Feeney." Columbia Law Review 79 (November 1979).

TonyFreyer/a. r.

See alsoCivil Service ; Equal Protection of the Law ; Discrimination: Sex ; Women in Military Service ; Women's Rights Movement: The Twentieth Century .

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