Pittsburgh Press Company v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations

PETITIONER: Pittsburgh Press Company
RESPONDENT: Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations
LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 72-419
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 413 US 376 (1973)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1973
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1973
GRANTED: Dec 04, 1972

Charles R. Volk -
Eugene B. Strassburger, Jr. -
Marjorie H. Matson - for respondent The National Organization for Women, Inc

Facts of the case

To prevent gender discrimination, the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (the Commission) created an ordinance that forbids newspapers to advertise employment opportunities in gender-designated column. The National Organization for Women, Inc. filed a complaint with the Commission alleging that the Pittsburgh Press Co. (Pittsburg Press) violated the ordinance by allowing employers to place advertisements in the male or female columns when the jobs advertised do not have occupational qualifications or exceptions. The Commission had a hearing and concluded Pittsburg Press violated the ordinance. The Pittsburg Press appealed and contended the ordinance violates the First Amendment by restricting its editorial judgment. The Commonwealth Court affirmed. 


Does an ordinance that forbids newspapers to advertise employment opportunities in gender-designated columns violate the freedom of press guaranteed by the First Amendment? 

Media for Pittsburgh Press Company v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1973 in Pittsburgh Press Company v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 72-419, Pittsburgh Press Company against the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations.

Mr. Volk.

Charles R. Volk:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The Pittsburgh Press Company has, as most newspapers in the country did have, a system and still do, I might add, a system of classifying its 'Help Wanted' advertisements under either male or female.

Some time after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and after EEOC guidelines which indicated that male and female as such might be proscribed and after the EEOC promulgated some alternative guidelines which have since been overturned again by the EEOC in one of their changes of guidelines, the Pittsburgh Press went to a system of male interest and female interest in a third column heading Male-Female.

Appropriately and prominently displayed in the want-ads themselves at the heads of the columns were a rather large disclaimer box entitled "Notice to Job Seekers" which pointed out that the classification was for reader interest only, and should not be construed as being a limitation since most laws -- there were laws in most jurisdictions which proscribed discrimination on the basis --

Byron R. White:

Who made the decision just as a matter of fact as to which column heading each ad went in?

Charles R. Volk:

As to which column each ad went in?

The record is fairly complete on that Mr. Justice White.

The system is that the advertiser calls up and in essence says where he wants it.

If he does not express preference for placement of the ad, the newspaper will help him where most ads of this type 'Secretaries Female', 'Truck Driver Male' --

Byron R. White:

So that there are -- in this case there are instances I suppose where we are talking about ads, a part of which the newspaper made the decision as to which column it went in.

Charles R. Volk:

Yeah the newspaper will help.

Byron R. White:

Well help, but it's the one who makes the decision as to which column to put it in.

Charles R. Volk:

It makes the final -- it reserves for itself the final determination, but I would be fatuous and untrue if I told this Court that that's the way it happens in actual practice.

In actual practice the advertiser who is seeking an employee calls up and says --

Byron R. White:

Invariably then the advertiser is the one who finally says the newspaper, “Well after now that I have talked to you I would suggest to go into this column."

Charles R. Volk:


Yes sir that’s essentially the way it works.

And now we have male interest and female interest.

The City of Pittsburgh passed an Ordinance --

Byron R. White:

So this isn't an independent judgment of the newspaper as to which -- it isn't its judgment as to whether this job is more attractive to males or females.

Charles R. Volk:

It isn't its judgment in any specific case.

I would be fatuous if I say that.

However, we do contend that the newspaper gets into the act by making an editorial decision that there are jobs, there is a large body of differing interest between males and females as they relate to the job market, and it is the decision of the newspaper to run column headings appealing to this reader interest and permitting advertisers to place job in there.

Byron R. White:

But if the advertisers have said -- if in each case the advertisers said to put it in the other column, the newspaper would put it in there?

Charles R. Volk:

Yes they would.

In this particular case --

Byron R. White:

It's not its judgment in any case as to whether the job was more fitting for male?

Charles R. Volk:

Not on the record.