Wards Cove Packing Company, Inc. v. Atonio

PETITIONER: Wards Cove Packing Co. et al.
RESPONDENT: Frank Atonio et al.
LOCATION: Wards Cove Packing Co.

DOCKET NO.: 87-1387
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 490 US 642 (1989)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 05, 1989

ADVOCATES:
Abraham A. Arditi - argued the cause for the respondents
Douglas M. Fryer - argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Wards Cove Packing Co. employed primarily nonwhite workers for unskilled seasonal jobs canning fish. A group of nonwhite workers filed suit in federal district court alleging that Wards Cove practiced discriminatory hiring in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As evidence, the group compared the high percentage of nonwhites in unskilled work with the high percentage of whites in skilled work. The District Court rejected this claim because it found that Ward received unskilled workers through a hiring agency that enrolled primarily nonwhites. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. It held that Ward had the burden of proof to show that its hiring practices were not discriminatory after the claimants presented evidence of racial disparity.

Question

Once employees present evidence of racial disparity among different classes of jobs, does the employer have to justify this disparity as a "business necessity" in order to avoid a "disparate impact" lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Media for Wards Cove Packing Company, Inc. v. Atonio

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1989 in Wards Cove Packing Company, Inc. v. Atonio

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument next in Number 87-1387, Wards Cove Packing Company v. Frank Atonio.

Mr. Fryer, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Douglas M. Fryer:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court:

This Court has granted certiorari to review three important questions.

I would like to discuss the questions in the order presented in the petition.

The first question really goes to the heart of this case.

And that is, whether comparative statistics, which show only a racial imbalance in the work force are to be preferred as a matter of law, over the trial court findings of fact as to the relevant labor market.

There is a stark contrast between these two measurements.

Petitioner's labor market analysis is widely used in civil rights litigation and it has been backed by every level of the federal judiciary, including this Court.

It is explicitly adopted by the very EEOC guidelines which are relied upon by the Respondents in their brief.

Indeed, it is ironic that in order to prevail in this case, the Respondents, and the amicus supporting them, are urging this Court, to urge as a matter of law that one of the most formidable tools that we have to measure employment discrimination, namely the labor market analysis, is to be discarded.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say, Mr. Fryer, that your labor market analysis is approved by the EEOC.

Can you give us a couple of sentence description as to what your labor market analysis is?

Douglas M. Fryer:

The labor market analysis was based upon the one percent sample from the Census.

It was drawn from the large geographic areas, where the employees were drawn from... from the western United States, in the areas that supplied people for this industry... Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and California.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, Mr. Fryer, I gather the district court relied on your expert's suggestion of just using Census data for a very wide area of the Pacific Northwest--

Douglas M. Fryer:

That is correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--as the relevant labor market?

Douglas M. Fryer:

That is correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Now, the Ninth Circuit rejected that and relied upon the pool of workers... the cannery workers themselves... and a more restricted pool and said that was determinative, is that correct?

Douglas M. Fryer:

That is correct.

They just looked at the labor force.

Douglas M. Fryer:

The internal work force, yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The internal labor force of the cannery workers.

Douglas M. Fryer:

The internal labor force, including the cannery workers.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Including the cannery workers.

Douglas M. Fryer:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Now, if we were to reject the Ninth Circuit's view of the appropriate pool, we then go back to what the district court found?

Douglas M. Fryer:

That is correct, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And even your expert said that the figure should not include college professors and construction workers and other groups which are not reasonably available for the jobs at issue.