• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court rejected a reverse discrimination claim in which a female employee was promoted over a white male employee who was judged slightly more qualified.

In United Steelworkers of America v. Weber[case]United Steelworkers of America v. Weber[United Steelworkers of America v. Weber](1979), the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Law of 1964 did not prohibit race-conscious affirmative action to eliminate racial imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories. In 1978 the Transportation Agency of Santa Clara County adopted a voluntary plan to address gender and racial disparity in job classifications. Although women made up 76 percent of the agency’s office and clerical staff, there were no women among its skilled craft workers. In a competition for promotion to road dispatcher, both Diane Joyce and Paul Johnson were rated as well qualified, but Johnson had slightly higher scores on the exams. When Joyce was promoted, Johnson sued for gender discrimination under Title VII.Affirmative action;Johnson v. Santa Clara County[Johnson v. Santa Clara County]

The Court rejected Johnson’s claim by a 6-3 vote. Speaking for the majority, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.,Brennan, William J., Jr.;Johnson v. Santa Clara County[Johnson v. Santa Clara County] using the reasoning in the Weber precedent, held that a limited gender preference was an appropriate means to remedy the imbalance between men and women in skilled job classifications. Brennan emphasized three points: First, Santa Clara’s plan used flexible goals rather than rigid quotas; second, gender was only one factor in the promotion choice; and third, men were not completely barred from future promotions in the agency. The decision was based on Title VII rather than the Fourteenth Amendment; therefore, there was no need to discuss the standards of strict or intermediate scrutiny. In a spirited dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Title VII’s purpose was to guarantee that race and sex would not be the basis for employment determinations.

In the 1990’s there was a strong movement against the continuing use of gender and race preferences in employment. In 1997 the Court refused to consider a challenge to California’s constitutional amendment prohibiting such preferences. Nevertheless, the Johnson decision continued to be good law except in states with constitutional prohibitions against preferences.

Affirmative action

Civil Rights Acts

Employment discrimination

Gender issues

Swayne, Noah H.

Categories: History