Supreme Court in the 1970s
The Supreme Court decided several cases that would become
landmarks in the decade of the 1970s and that would bolster EEOC
enforcement efforts. These important decisions supported the
Commission's broad definition of discrimination as well as the
affirmative remedies required to eliminate it. In addition, many of
the cases addressed the rights of minorities and women, as well as
the protections afforded to individuals' religious practices.
The most cited case in employment discrimination law was decided
during this time. In McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green (1973), the Supreme Court established the basic
analytical framework for proving an individual case of intentional
discrimination, or disparate treatment, under Title VII. The Court
held that a plaintiff could prove unlawful discrimination
indirectly in a hiring case by showing that (1) the plaintiff is a
member of a Title VII protected group; (2) the plaintiff applied
and was qualified for the position sought; (3) the employer
rejected the plaintiff for the job; and (4) the employer continued
to seek applicants with similar qualifications after the rejection.
The Court held that once such a bare showing has been made, an
employer to avoid liability must articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason explaining its refusal to hire. The
analytical framework of McDonnell Douglas has since been applied to
cases brought under all of EEOC's other statutes and in one form or
another to most kinds of employment decisions.
Other significant cases decided by the Supreme Court during the
- Espinoza v. Farah
Manufacturing Company (1973), holding that non-citizens are
entitled to Title VII protection. The Court stated that a
citizenship requirement for a job may violate the law if it has the
purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of national
origin. Following this decision, the Commission issued revised
guidelines in l975, prohibiting imposition of a citizenship
requirement as a job criterion where it has the "purpose or effect"
of excluding persons of a particular national origin.
- Alexander v.
Gardner-Denver Co. (1974), holding that an employee who submits
a discrimination claim to arbitration under a collective bargaining
agreement and loses is not precluded from suing under Title VII.
The Court stated that TitleVII confers an individual right to equal
employment opportunities that cannot be bargained away by the union
- Albemarle Paper Co.
v. Moody (1975), holding that when a finding of discrimination
has been made, there is a presumption that back pay should be
provided to make individual victims whole.
- General Electric v.
Gilbert (1976), holding that excluding disabilities related to
pregnancy from a health insurance plan did not constitute sex-based
discrimination under Title VII. In response, Congress enacted the
Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which amended Title VII to
explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy,
reinstating EEOC's interpretation of the law.
- Franks v. Bowman
Transportation Co. (1976), holding that retroactive seniority
to the date the individual was unlawfully denied a position is
appropriate relief for a victim of discrimination.
Brotherhood of Teamsters v. U.S. (1977), holding that
statistics are probative of discrimination, especially when
combined with anecdotal evidence.
- Hazelwood School
District v. U.S. (1977), clarifying the use of statistics in
Title VII cases, the Court held that the government could establish
a prima facie case of race discrimination by comparing the racial
composition of an employer's workforce with the racial composition
of the relevant labor market, and indicated the rate of disparity
that would support an inference of discrimination.
- Trans World Airlines
Inc. v. Hardison (1977), accepting EEOC guidelines requiring an
employer to make a reasonable accommodation for employees' and
applicants' religious needs where this would not create an undue
hardship. However, the Court established a de minimis level for
demonstrating undue hardship.
- Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power v. Manhart (1978), holding that
employers may not require female employees to make larger
contributions to pension plans in order to obtain the same monthly
benefits as men. The Court, agreeing with EEOC, specifically
rejected a cost-justification defense that was based on the fact
that women, on average, live longer than men.
- United Steel Workers
of America v. Weber (1979), holding that voluntary affirmative
action programs are not illegal even if they include numerical
goals and timetables, provided that they are intended to "eliminate
a manifest racial imbalance" caused by past discrimination, are
"temporary," and "do not unnecessarily trammel on interests of" or
"create an absolute bar to advancement of" non-minority
Next: Prelude to the
1980s - Reorganization and Expanded Authority