Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney

PETITIONER: Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts
LOCATION: Massachusetts General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 78-233
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 442 US 256 (1979)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 05, 1979

Richard P. Ward - Argued the cause for the appellees
Thomas R. Kiley - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

A Massachusetts law gave hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans applying for state civil service positions. Feeney, a woman who scored high on certain competitive civil service examinations, was ranked below male veterans who had lower scores.


Did the law discriminate against women and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1979 in Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts against Feeney.

Mr. Kiley, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

Thomas R. Kiley:

Mr. Chief Justice and May it please the court.

My name is Thomas R. Kiley.

I’m the first Assistant Attorney General at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

With me at counsel table A is Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti.

We appear today in defense of the Commonwealth’s veterans preference statute.

The statute which was quantified when challenged is Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 31, Section 23 and which is set forth in the form which it existed at that time at page 3 of our brief.

In the essence, it is a positional veteran’s preference statute, which places veterans who qualify for civil service jobs by passing examinations.

At the top of civil service lists of those eligible for appointment to jobs.

This positional preference statute is challenged by Helen B. Feeney, a non-veteran female who alleges that the application of the statute denies her and people of gender, equal protection of the laws.

The thrust of her complaint is that few women are veterans and that application of the veteran’s preference naturally excludes women from civil service jobs.

The case comes to this court on appeal from a divided three judge panel in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

That court first decided this case in March of 1976 invalidating the state statute largely on the basis of its impact on women.

On our original appeal, you remanded the cause to the District Court for reconsideration in light of Washington and Davis.

The case which we submit repudiated the impact analysis used by the Court below.

Potter Stewart:

Is this exclusively an equal protection case?

Thomas R. Kiley:

It is exclusively an equal protection case Mr. Justice Stewart.

It could not be Title VII seven case, under Title VII veteran’s preference statutes are explicitly excluded.

Potter Stewart:

Right, and it’s not, no reliance is placed upon the due process clause.

Thomas R. Kiley:

Well, it is an Equal Protection Clause case as it is been decided I think.

Potter Stewart:

And it’s been argued and --

Thomas R. Kiley:


Potter Stewart:


Thomas R. Kiley:

Yes, Mr. Justice Stewart.

The three judge panel reconsidered this case on the original record and adhered to its original ruling, essentially agreeing with Mrs. Feeney’s basic contention that the veterans preference statute is applied in Massachusetts invidiously discriminates against women in violation of Equal Protection Clause.

We obliviously disagree with that conclusion, but we do not disagree with everything that the District Court had to say in this case.

In the areas of agreement are important to emphasis of the outset of the argument because they serve to narrow our focus.

First, nobody seems to contend that the concept of a civil service hiring preference for veterans is itself unconstitutional.

Each of the judges who considered this case, the parties before this court and amicus curii, all seem to staff from the premise the veteran’s hiring preferences are constitutional and that they are further important societal objectives.