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the disparate impact test by Andrew Hart
February 17, 2010, 1:55 am
Filed under: history, law

I’m dreading my undergraduate research right now, so how about I post a little summary of part of it.

Griggs v. Duke Power is a landmark 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case.  It is perhaps the foundational case in the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case centers on a policy of Duke Power Company for internal promotions.  The company required all employees transferring out of the lowest-paying department to have a high school degree, and to pass two aptitude tests.  Willie Griggs filed suit on behalf of many black employees of Duke Power, asserting that the tests discriminated against African American employees.

The Supreme Court reversed the finding for Duke Power at the District Court of Appeals.  The Court argued that the aptitude test and educational requirements were not job-related, and that they had the effect of halting promotions of a disproportionate number of black workers.

This finding ushered in the “disparate impact” test for Title VII law.  This test prevents employers from using what appear to be neutral measures, such as educational requirements or aptitude tests, that have a disproportional impact on a protected minority under Title VII.  Employees must show that tests have a legitimate work-related function; in the case of Griggs, Duke Power could not show this legitimate function.

The Court signaled in the Griggs decision that it would read Title VII broadly.  It set up a test that allowed broad latitude for plaintiffs to bring suit against companies for more than just overt discrimination.  It also gave teeth to the federal regulatory commission created by Title VII, the EEOC.  Under the disparate impact test, the EEOC could use statistical data from employment practices to bring suit against employers.  Even if individuals were not aware that they were the subject of discrimination, the Griggs decision allowed the EEOC to prosecute employers engaging in discriminatory practices.

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