Griggs v. Duke Power Co.

Following is the case brief for Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971)

Case Summary of Griggs v. Duke Power Co.:

  • A group of African-American employees sued their employer, Duke Power Company, for a policy that mandated a high school diploma and satisfactory scores on two general aptitude tests in order to advance in the company.
  • The lower courts found no violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  They reasoned that because the high school and testing requirements applied to all races the Company had no discriminatory intent.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.  The Court held that even race-neutral policies that may show no discriminatory intent, still may be discriminatory in operation.  It found that the high school and testing requirements indeed had a disproportionate negative impact on the African-American employees’ ability to advance.  Therefore, those requirements violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Griggs v. Duke Power Co. Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Before the Civil Rights Act became effective in 1965, the Duke Power Company in North Carolina openly discriminated against African-American employees by allowing them to only work in the lowest paid division of the Company.  After 1965, the Company required a high school diploma and satisfactory scores on two professionally prepared aptitude tests for employees to advance to higher divisions.  The aptitude tests were not tied to any specific job-related skills.

The Company’s policy led to a disproportionate number of African-Americans being unable to advance to higher-paying positions.  A group of African-American employees, the petitioners in this case, filed an action in federal district court against the Company.  They alleged that the high school and testing requirements violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Procedural History:

  • The District Court held that the Company’s overt racial discrimination ceased when the Civil Rights Act became effective.  It found that because the Act was prospective, no relief could be granted to petitioners.
  • The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part.  It held that the Act could reach past discrimination, but that because the high school and aptitude test requirements applied to all races, there was no violation of the Act.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Does the Civil Rights Act prohibit an employer from requiring a high school diploma and satisfactory scores on two aptitude tests for job advancement when the tests (i) are not specifically related to job performance and (ii) disqualify African-American employees at a higher rate than white employees?  Yes.

Judgment:

The judgment of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from pursuing policies that appear fair in form, but are discriminatory in operation.

Reasoning:

  • The Civil Rights Act was meant to combat employer policies that have a discriminatory impact.

Congress’ objective in enacting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was equality of employment opportunities and the removal of barriers that previously favored white employees. Accordingly, employer policies that appear race neutral but result in keeping a status quo that continues to discriminate against African-American employees violates the Act.

  • The Company’s policies, while race neutral, have a discriminatory impact on African American employees.  

In this case, the high school requirement and the general aptitude tests did not have a demonstrated relationship to on-the-job success at the Company.  Indeed, the result of those requirements merely worked to keep African-American employees from advancing out of the lowest paid division in the Company.

While the Act does not prohibit the use of testing procedures, the testing requirements should not have controlling force unless they are demonstrated to be a reasonable measure of job performance.  The Company failed to make that showing here.  Therefore, the Company’s requirements violate the Act.

Significance:

Griggs v. Duke Power Co. is an early and important case discussing the need to eradicate not only discriminatory treatment in the workplace, but also race-neutral polices that have a discriminatory impact.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/401/424/case.html

https://www.oyez.org/cases/1970/124

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