International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW

PETITIONER: Automobile Workers
RESPONDENT: Johnson Controls, Inc.
LOCATION: Johnson Controls, Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 89-1215
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 499 US 187 (1991)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1990
DECIDED: Mar 20, 1991

ADVOCATES:
Marsha S. Berzon - on behalf of the Petitioners
Stanley S. Jaspan - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Johnson Controls, Inc. ("Johnson") manufactures batteries whose assembly process entails exposure to high levels of lead. After discovering that eight of its female employees became pregnant while maintaining blood lead levels in excess of those thought safe by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Johnson barred all its female employees - except those with medically documented infertility - from engaging in tasks that require exposure to lead in access of recommended OSHA levels. Following its passage, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) challenged Johnson's fetal-protection policy as sexually discriminatory in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Act). When the Appellate Court affirmed a district court decision in favor of Johnson, the UAW appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question

Does a policy barring the participation of potentially fertile and pregnant women in occupations that could be detrimental to their reproductive capacities constitute sexual discrimination in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

Media for International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1990 in International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 20, 1991 in International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW

Harry A. Blackmun:

The second case is No. 89-1215, International Union against Johnson Controls.

In this case, we are concerned with such discrimination alleged to be violating with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended.

Respondent, Johnson Controls manufacturers batteries, lead as a primary ingredient in the manufacturing process, occupational exposure to the lead entails health risks including the risk of harm to a fetus carried by a female employee.

Eight of Johnson Controls employees became pregnant while maintaining blood levels exceeding that noted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as critical for a worker planning to have a family.

The respondent, thereupon, announced the policy bind all women except those whose infertility was medically documented from jobs involving actual or potential lead exposure exceeding the OSHA standard.

Petitioners are a group including employees affected by Johnson Controls' Fetal Protection Policy.

They filed a class action in the District Court claiming that the policy was sex discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

The court granted summary judgment for the employer.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

It held that the proper standard for evaluating the policy was the business necessity inquiry applied by other Circuits and that the employer's Fetal Protection Policy was reasonably necessary to further the industrial safety concern that is part of the essence of the employer's business.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reverse that judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

We hold that Tittle VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids sex-specific fetal protection policies by excluding women with child bearing capacity from lead-exposed jobs.

This employer's policy creates a facial classification based on gender.

Its policy explicitly classifies on the basis of potential for pregnancy.

The policy is not neutral because it does not apply to male employees in the same way as it applies to females, despite evidence about the debilitating effect of lead-exposure on the male reproductive system.

The language of the bona fide occupational qualification provision in the statute, the legislative history, the case law, all prohibit an employer from discriminating against a woman because of her capacity to become pregnant unless, her reproductive potential prevents her from performing the duties of the job.

So far as appearance from this record, fertile women participate in the manufacture of batteries just as efficiently as anyone else.

In Tittle VII as amended mandates that decisions about the welfare of future children be left to the parents rather than to the employers, who hire those parents or to the courts, and employer's tort liability for potential fetal injuries and its increased cause due to fertile women in the work place do not require a different result.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, and is joined by the Chief Justice and by Justice Kennedy.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.