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Court rules on 'sex stereotyping.' (developments in industrial relations)

Court rules on 'sex stereotyping'

The Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 decision, held that if a woman presents evidence that she was denied a promotion because of illegal "sex stereotyping," her employer "may avoid a finding of liability only by proving . . . that it would have made the same decision even if it had not taken die [woman's] gender into account." However, the Court remanded the case to the Federal district court for further hearing because Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., who wrote the lead opinion, concluded that the lower courts had required the employer to provide too high a level of proof of the legitimacy of its promotion decision.

The case arose in 1983, when Price Waterhouse, an accounting firm, denied Ann B. Hopkins a promotion to partner, even though she brought in more business than any of the other 87 candidates for partnership. In winning successive decisions by the lower Federal courts, Hopkins contended that some partners had voted against her elevation because they considered her too aggressive, and frowned on her use of profane language. At the time, Price Waterhouse had seven women among its 662 partners.

Some of the uncertainty about the ultimate effect of the decision resulted because two justices in the six-member majority dissented on some aspects of die ruling. In her partial dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the employee must present direct evidence that discrimination was a major factor in the employer's promotion decision before the employer can be forced to justify it. In his partial dissent, Justice Byron R. White similarly contended that the burden of proof should fall on employers only in certain circumstances.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia, said an employee has the sole responsibility of proving that a denial of promotion was impelled by discrimination.
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Author:Ruben, George
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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