Griggs v. Duke Power Company

RESPONDENT: Duke Power Company
LOCATION: Duke Power Company's Dan River Stream Station

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 401 US 424 (1971)
ARGUED: Dec 14, 1970
DECIDED: Mar 08, 1971

Facts of the case

Willie Griggs filed a class action, on behalf of several fellow African- American employees, against his employer Duke Power Company . Griggs challenged Duke's "inside" transfer policy, requiring employees who want to work in all but the company's lowest paying Labor Department to register a minimum score on two separate aptitude tests in addition to having a high school education. Griggs claimed that Duke's policy discriminated against African-American employees in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On appeal from a district court's dismissal of the claim, the Court of Appeals found no discriminatory practices. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Did Duke Power Company's intradepartmental transfer policy, requiring a high school education and the achievement of minimum scores on two separate aptitude tests, violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

Media for Griggs v. Duke Power Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 14, 1970 in Griggs v. Duke Power Company

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Greenberg, you may proceed.

Jack Greenberg:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which affirmed in Court and reversed in Court a decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina by decision in which Judge Sobeloff dissented.

The issue is one of statutory construction of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the particular statutory provision for which I would like to draw the Court's attention appears on page 2 of our brief.

The statute makes it unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise to discriminate against him with regard to race.

And then in Section 2 which more particularly applies to the issue we have pending here to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunity or otherwise adversely affect the status as an employee because of race and other forbidden reasons.

The question presented in this case is whether intelligence tests and a high school graduation requirement may be use as a pre-requisite to promotion from the job of laborer to the job of coal-handler and perhaps other jobs at respondent's power plant.

When these tests, that is the intelligence tests which I might say was adopted on July 2, 1965, the effective date of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

When these tests screen out Negroes at a significantly higher rate than they screen out whites and there has been no demonstration that the tests and the high school requirement predict ability to do the job and indeed there is some evidence to the contrary that they do not predict the ability to do the job.

Now, the court below held in the case of employees employed after the high school requirement was instituted that the statute was not violated and as I read the opinion of the court below and the position of respondents, they rests on three separate grounds, that first of all that there was no demonstration of an intent to discriminate.

Secondly, there's a statutory argument and that is that such tests are privileged as “professionally developed ability tests” under Section 703 (h) of Title VII and then there is an assertion by the respondent which we say has no support in the record.

In fact, the record in some parts of the country that the test survey legitimate business need that is that certain employees are not fully promotable throughout the plant to higher positions and that the high school education requirements help select employees who are.

Now, before elaborating our argument, we would like to make our position clear with regard to ability testing.

No employer, we submit under the statute is required to employ anyone who is unable to do the job and any employer may use tests and educational requirements which predict whether an employee or perspective employee can do the job.

But if the tests that's used or the educational requirement that's used screens out members of a race or of a group protected by the statute and does not predict who can do the job or does not have predictive validity as the industrial psychologist use the terminus this record use the term, then it cannot be justified merely on the basis of good faith.

A good faith or intent, we submit is an elusive concept which regularly, frequently is advance in civil rights cases.

We hear good faith defenses in school segregation cases, in jury discrimination cases, in voting discrimination cases and the courts have regularly responded that they look to results and not make an effort to read the mind of an employer or indeed something much more difficult to do to read the mind of a corporation as to what it intends to do by the application of certain standards and tests.

Indeed, while it has not been possible on this record to challenge the good faith of the respondent because that's just something that one can very rarely develop evidence on.

Such a test would be an invitation to many who would seek to evade the statute to hide behind the concept of good faith.

Now as I said Duke Power Company adopted the test requirement for initial employment on July 2, 1965 the date of the Act in question.

Until then and until after the filing of the charge in this case in fact, employment of Duke Power Company was rigidly racially segregated.

Black persons worked in the Labor Department only.

White persons worked in the better and higher paying jobs, that is the departments described in the record of Operations, Maintenance, Test and Laboratory, and Coal Handling.

And the highest paid black worker made less money than the lowest paid white worker under the system.

Now, I understand it in the labor department that that was the only growth was it?

Jack Greenberg:


Well, at one time (Voice Overlap) there was a white foreman in the Labor Department.

What my real question is, as a matter of fact and I don't know that I fully understand it, was the Labor Department all Negro and every other department in the company all white, this is prior up to 1965?

Jack Greenberg:


Or was it only that the Labor Department was all Negro and that the other departments Coal Handling did have some Negroes in it or not?