Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust

RESPONDENT:Fort Worth Bank & Trust
LOCATION:Wall Street Journal Corporate Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 86-6139
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)

CITATION: 487 US 977 (1988)
ARGUED: Jan 20, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1988

Facts of the case


Media for Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 20, 1988 in Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 29, 1988 in Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust

Sandra Day O’Connor:

In the second case, No. 86-6139, Watson versus Fort Worth Bank & Trust, it comes to us on writ of certiorari from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

It’s an action under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

That law forbids discrimination and employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

In this case, the petitioner claimed she was the victim of racially discriminatory promotion policies carried out by her employer, the respondent bank.

Those policies essentially allowed individual supervisors at the bank, all of whom were white, to use their unguided discretion to choose the person they felt was best suited to receive promotions when vacancies occurred.

Our prior decisions have distinguished two theories on which a Title VII plaintiff may proceed. One theory, known as disparate treatment analysis requires proof that the defendant employer intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff.

The other theory which is called disparate impact analysis does not require a proof of discriminatory intent.

Instead, the plaintiff may show that facially neutral employment criteria which are not sufficiently job related have a substantial adverse effect on the protected group.

Our previous disparate impact cases have dealt with objective employment criteria such as high school diploma requirements, standardized intelligence test and minimum height and weight requirements.

The Courts of Appeal have disagreed with one another as to whether disparate impact analysis may be applied to more subjective employment criteria such as those used by the respondent in this case.

The court below applying Fifth Circuit precedent held the petitioner should not be allowed to use disparate impact theory to challenge her employer subjective or discretionary promotion criteria.

We hold today that disparate impact analysis is applicable to cases like this one without regard to the objective or subjective nature of the challenge employment practice.

The Court’s opinion with regard to the evidentiary standards to be applied is joined by only four members of the Court.

But the judgment is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings are consistent with our holding.

Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in part in which Justices Brennan and Marshall have joined.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Kennedy took no part in the case.