Griggs v. Duke Power Co.

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Griggs v. Duke Power Co.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 14, 1970
Decided March 8, 1971
Full case name Griggs et al. v. Duke Power Co.
Citations 401 U.S. 424 (more)
Prior history Reversed in part, 420 F.2d 1225. Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, granted.
Subsequent history 420 F.2d 1225, reversed in part.
Broad aptitude tests used in hiring practices that disparately impact ethnic minorities must be reasonably related to the job.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
John M. Harlan II · William J. Brennan, Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Case opinions
Majority Burger, joined by unanimous
Brennan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
Civil Rights Act of 1964

Griggs v Duke Power Co, 401 US 424 (1971), was a court case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on December 14, 1970. It concerned employment discrimination and the adverse impact theory, and was decided on March 8, 1971. It is generally considered the first case of its type.[1]

The Supreme Court ruled that the company's employment requirements did not pertain to applicants' ability to perform the job, and so were discriminating against black employees. The judgment famously wrote that "Congress has now provided that tests or criteria for employment or promotion may not provide equality of opportunity merely in the sense of the fabled offer of milk to the stork and the fox."[1]


Duke Power Company was a public utility corporation that was involved in the generation, transmission, distribution, and sale of electric power to the general public in North Carolina and South Carolina. Duke Power also supplied electric power to federal government agencies and, for that reason, was subject to an Executive Order that prohibited discrimination in employment.[2]

In the 1950s Duke Power's Dan River plant had a policy that blacks were allowed to work only in its Labor department, which constituted the lowest-paying positions in the company.[3] In 1955 the company added the requirement of a high school diploma for its higher paid jobs.[4]


The Supreme Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if such tests disparately impact ethnic minority groups, businesses must demonstrate that such tests are "reasonably related" to the job for which the test is required. Because Title VII was passed pursuant to Congress's power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the disparate impact test later articulated by the Supreme Court in Washington v. Davis, 426 US 229 (1976) is inapplicable. (The Washington v. Davis test for disparate impact is used in constitutional equal protection clause cases, while Title VII's prohibition on disparate impact is a statutory mandate.)

As such, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment tests (when used as a decisive factor in employment decisions) that are not a "reasonable measure of job performance," regardless of the absence of actual intent to discriminate. Since the aptitude tests involved, and the high school diploma requirement, were broad-based and not directly related to the jobs performed, Duke Power's employee transfer procedure was found by the Court to be in violation of the Act.

Chief Justice Burger wrote the majority opinion.[5]


Griggs v. Duke Power Co. also held that the employer had the burden of producing and proving the business necessity of a test. However, in Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio (1989),[8] the Court reduced the employer's (Wards Cove Packing Company) burden to producing only evidence of business justification. In 1991, the Civil Rights Act was amended to overturn that portion of the Wards Cove decision.

David Frum asserts that before Griggs, employers did not have to separate intentional wrongs from unintentional wrongs if they treated all applicants equally by appearances.[9]

Justice Ginsburg's dissent in Ricci v. DeStefano suggests that the Griggs conclusion (that Congress aimed beyond “disparate treatment”; it targeted “disparate impact” as well and proscribed not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation) has been effectively overturned by the Ricci decision.

Although private employers with 15 or more employees need to be careful, it was held in Washington v. Davis (1976) that public employers, such as police departments, enjoy sovereign immunity.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Christa Tobler (5 July 2005). Indirect discrimination: a case study into the development of the legal concept of indirect discrimination under EC law. Intersentia nv. p. 515. ISBN 90-5095-458-8. 
  2. ^ Belton, Robert (November 2014). "How Griggs came to be". Journal of Supreme Court History. 39 (3): 426. 
  3. ^ Civil Rights Act of 1964
  4. ^ Perry Alan Zirkel; Sharon Nalbone Richardson; Steven Selig Goldberg (2001). A Digest of Supreme Court Decisions affecting Education. Phi Delta Kappa International. p. 326. ISBN 0-87367-835-4. 
  5. ^ 401 U.S. 424, 430-434
  6. ^ In North Carolina, 1960 census statistics show that, while 34% of white males had completed high school, only 12% of Negro males had done so. U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Population: 1960, Vol. 1, Characteristics of the Population, pt. 35, Table 47. Similarly, with respect to standardized tests, the EEOC in one case found that use of a battery of tests, including the Wonderlic and Bennett tests used by the Company in the instant case, resulted in 58% of whites passing the tests, as compared with 6% of the blacks. Decision of EEOC, CCH Empl. Prac. Guide, ¶ 17,304.53 (December 2, 1966). See also Decision of EEOC 70-552, CCH Empl. Prac. Guide, ¶ 6139 (February 19, 1970).
  7. ^ For example, between July 2, 1965, and November 14, 1966, the percentage of white employees who were promoted but who were not high school graduates was nearly identical to the percentage of nongraduates in the entire white workforce.
  8. ^ 490 U.S. 642, 657 (1989)
  9. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. pp. 242–243. ISBN 0-465-04195-7. 
  10. ^ Washington v. Davis

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]