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Civil rights cases.

Civil rights cases The Supreme Court issued several rulings that were generally viewed as restraints on women's and minorities' efforts to redress allegedly unfair employment practices.

In Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Antonio, the Court held that employees must now prove that racial imbalances in their employer's work force result from practices that have no valid business justification. Under the previous interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statistical indication of racial imbalance was sufficient for a finding of discrimination, even if there was no evidence that the employer intended to discriminate. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex or race.

The case, which originated 15 years ago, involved salmon cannery workers, mostly Filipinos and Alaskan Natives. They claimed that Wards Cove Packing's hiring and promotion practices--which included racially segregating work, eating, and sleep areas and not promoting from within--relegated them to canning line jobs, generally leaving the higher paying nonline jobs to whites. Wards Cove argued that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate which particular employment practices caused the alleged discrimination. The company also contended that its ability to fill the nonline jobs was limited by the pool of available trained applicants.

Justice Byron R. White, writing for the five-member majority, remanded the case to an appeals court for further review. The opinion stated that the plaintiff's statistical comparison of the percentage of whites in line and nonline jobs was not appropriate if the absence of minorities from nonline jobs resulted from a dearth of minority applicants that could not be attributed to the company.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Harry A. Blackmun, accused the majority of "turning a blind eye to the meaning and purpose of Title VII." In a separate dissent, Justice Blackmun said that the majority decision would protect blatantly discriminatory employment practices.

In Martin v. Wilks, the Supreme Court ruled that a group of white firefighters in Birmingham, AL, could challenge an affirmative action plan that had been adopted in 1981 with approval of a lower court to settle charges by blacks that the city had engaged in discriminatory hiring and promotion practices. In their 1983 suit, the white plaintiffs claimed that the affirmative action plan had denied them promotions because of their race, a violation, they maintained, of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist acknowledged that "the great majority" of appeals courts had rejected challenges to affirmative action plans by "secondary parties" such as the white firefighters, particularly when the plaintiffs were aware of the plan when it was adopted but delayed in initiating a court test. However, he said, the white firefighters' challenge must be allowed because a voluntary settlement between a group of employees and their employer "cannot possibly settle . . . the conflicting claims of another group of employees who do not join in the agreement."

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for Justices William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Harry A. Blackmun, said the ruling was "unfathomable" and will "subject large employers who seek to comply with the law to a never-ending stream of litigation and potential liability."

In Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., the Supreme Court held that three women employees of an AT&T plant in Aurora, IL, waited too long before filing a lawsuit contending that a new job seniority system had sexually discriminated against them. Under the new system, the jobs held by the women had been converted to coverage by plantwide job preference seniority rules, from department rules, dropping them to lower paying jobs.

The five-member ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the claim should have been file within 300 days after the seniority change was adopted. The opinion maintained that the Congress intended to give "special treatment" to seniority systems to avert challenges that would disrupt employees "settled expectations."

Justice Thurgood Marshall, joined in dissent by Justices William J. Brennan, Jr., and Harry A. Blackmun, said the decision was at odds with the Civil Rights Act because it required the women to sue before they had suffered adverse effects.

In Mansell v. Mansell, the Supreme Court held that the divorced spouse of a military retiree is not entitled to a share of any disability benefits received by the retiree. (Possible disability benefits are paid to retirees in combination with regular pensions, which are reduced by the amount of the disability benefits. The disability portion is tax free, unlike the regular pension portion.) The decision hinged on the intent of the Congress in passing the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, which permitted State courts to treat military retirement pensions as marital property in divorce settlements.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing for the seven-member majority, expressed sympathy for affected former spouses but said that the "plain language" of the act specifically excluded disability benefits from marital property.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, joined in dissent by Justice Harry A. Blackman said that the intent of the Congress was to overturn a 1981 decision in which the court had excluded all retirement benefits from marital property. Justice O'Connor said that this legislative intent made it inconceivable that the Congress intended the broad remedial purpose of the statute to be thwarted by such an exclusion.
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Title Annotation:Developments in Industrial Relations; Supreme Court decisions in several cases
Author:Ruben, George
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:National Steel-United Steelworkers.
Next Article:Drug test rulings.

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