The defendant, Johnson Controls Inc, manufactures batteries, which contain lead as a primary ingredient in the manufacturing process. It has been determined that a female employee who has been exposed to lead is putting any fetus that she carries at risk. Due to this potential harm, Johnson Controls has created a policy excluding women with childbearing capabilities from lead-exposed jobs.
Numerous plaintiffs entered a federal district court class action alleging that Johnson Controls' policy constituted illegal sex discrimination under Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in hiring, firing, job assignments, pa, access to training, and apprenticeship programs. The district court entered a summary judgment for Johnson Controls. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Does a fetal-protection policy fall within the so-called safety exception of the BFOQ, which states that an employer may discriminate on the basis of "religion, sex, or national origin in those certain instances where religion, sex, or national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise"?
No, because decisions about the welfare of future children must be left to the parents who conceive, bear, support, and raise them rather than to the employers who hire those parents.
First the court looked at the defendant's argument that discrimination on the basis of sex because of safety concerns is allowed in narrow circumstances. This brought the court to examine Dothard v. Rawlinson, which allowed the employer to hire only male guards in contact areas of maximum-security male penitentiaries only because more was at stake than the individual woman's decision to weigh and accept the risks of employment....