McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green

PETITIONER: McDonnell Douglas Corporation
LOCATION: McDonnell Douglas Corporation Factory

DOCKET NO.: 72-490
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 411 US 792 (1973)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1973
DECIDED: May 14, 1973
GRANTED: Dec 04, 1972

Louis Gilden - for respondent
Veryl L. Riddle - for petitioner

Facts of the case

Percy Green, a black civil rights activist, was a mechanic working for the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, a St. Louis-based aerospace and aircraft manufacturer, from 1956 until August 28, 1964, when he was laid off. Green protested his discharge by saying that the company’s hiring and firing practices were racially motivated. As part of his protest, he and other members of the Congress on Racial Equality illegally parked their cars to block the main roads to the plant during the morning shift change. On July 2, 1965, there was a lock-in, in which workers were unable to leave, though the extent of Green’s involvement in this incident was unclear. On July 25, 1965, McDonnell Douglas Corporation advertised for qualified mechanics and Green reapplied, only to be turned down due to his involvement in the protests.

Green filed a petition with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and alleged that he was denied his position because of his race and civil rights activism. The Commission did not make any finding on the racial bias charge, but did conclude that Green was denied his job upon reapplication due to his involvement in civil rights protests. When the situation could not be resolved outside the courts, Green sued McDonnell Douglas Corporation. The district court dismissed the racial discrimination charge and held that the McDonnell Douglas Corporation refused to rehire Green because of his participation in illegal demonstrations rather than legitimate civil rights issues. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the holding that illegal protests were not protected activities but remanded the case to reconsider the racial discrimination charge.


(1) Is a complainant in an employment discrimination suit limited to those charges for which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found reasonable cause?

(2) If so, must the complainant present a prima facie case for racial discrimination?

Media for McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1973 in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in 72-490 McDonnell Douglas Corporation against Green.

Mr. Riddle you proceed whenever you’re ready.

Veryl L. Riddle:

Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is before the Court to review the decision of the Eighth Circuit.

The plaintiff below who is the respondent here, Mr. Percy Green a black man, and the defendant below who is the petitioner here is the McDonnell Douglas Corporation.

We’ll refer to the parties to this suit by their names Mr. Green and by McDonnell during the course of the argument to the Court.

Mr. Green was a mechanic and had worked at McDonnell Douglass for 1966, up until the time of his layoff in 1964.

During that period of time, he had established a work record that qualified him by the rating records and the supervisors at the plant as being of average, or suppose said another way, satisfactory.

He was in that period of time, well up until 1963.

He was a member of the union and is such was protected by the union rights as it had bargained with the company for such as seniority and what have you.

However in 1962, the respondent here Mr. Green, became interested in doing some work outside of the work that he had been doing and made inquiry as to whether or not he could transferred over to the electronics division of McDonnell.

At that time he was told by supervisors and by people with whom he worked that for him to transfer over to that division would cause him to give up what seniority rights and whatever protection he had under the labor contract.

And it was pointed out to him that that new department that he was looking at was engaged in work related to the Gemini program and it could be a one shot contract, because of that there was some uncertainty as to the durability of it.

Well, considering those factors, 1962 Mr. Green declined to transfer and didn’t make an application.

A few months later the next year, Mr. Green again looked over at the other department and decided that maybe he should transfer.

The pay wasn’t significantly greater, but apparently it was a more prestigious position and would utilize his skills to a greater extent.

When he looked at it the second time, he was again advised that “because you’re a member of the union now, you have a certain seniority rights, but and again this is the Gemini program and you may -- when you get over there as a non-union member or employee of McDonnell, you won’t have the security of the job that you have now.”

Well, in spite of that he decided to make the transfer and for approximately a year thereafter.

Potter Stewart:

It was 1963?

Veryl L. Riddle:

It was at 1963.

For approximately a year thereafter, he worked there as a technician over in the electronics division working on simulators for the Gemini program.

Well, as was predicted by some, the program was winding down and there was a layoff coming up.

The company using a pattern, or using a practice in this particular essence that they had used before called the “totem pole” referred to in the case, made a determination that some of the excess technicians working on that program would have to be dismissed, and of course -- due course of time, Mr. Green and 14 to 15 others in fact were dismissed or laid off.

At the time that they were laid off, the time that Mr. Green was laid off, he made some protest to his superiors and to some of the executives of McDonnell and pointed out that in his opinion he was being discriminated because he was a black man, and because he was a known protestor and leader in civil rights activities around town.

Pointed out that his position in those activities was such that the company would be taking some risk if they laid him off, but in spite of the various and prolonged discussions, he was laid off.

Now, sometime after within a few weeks and in fact in October 1964, Mr. Green participated and was referred to in the record and in the briefs as a “stall-in” now this “stall-in” as was referred to by some of the witnesses in the case as an attempt to sabotage the facility and the operations of McDonnell.

I think to fully understand the significance and the impact of the other “stall-in” I would call the Court’s attention to pages 57, 58 and 59 of the volume one of the appendix.

Warren E. Burger:


Give me that number again?

Veryl L. Riddle:

It’s on the volume 1 of the appendix and at page 507, 508 and 509.