Theories of Discrimination

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Theories of Discrimination: Griggs vs. Duke Power Case

In 1971, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power, which transformed our nation’s work places. A group of thirteen African-American employees who worked at the Duke Power Company’s Dan River Steam Station, a power-generating facility located in Draper, North Carolina. Were being discriminated against. Duke Power had a long history of segregating employees by race.  At the Steam Station, the best jobs were reserved for whites. African-Americans were relegated to the labor department, where the highest-paid worker earned less than the lowest-paid employee in the other four departments where only whites worked. 

Shortly after Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, Duke Power stopped expressly restricting African-Americans to the labor department and announced new standards for hiring, promotion, and transfers. In order to work in positions outside of the labor department, Duke Power now required a high school diploma or scores on standardized IQ tests equal to those of the average high school graduate.  These new requirements were not an improvement, however.  They effectively perpetuated the discriminatory policies that Duke Power had utilized prior to the enactment of Title VII.  Although the testing and diploma criteria disqualified African-Americans at a substantially higher rate than whites, Duke Power never established that they successfully measured ability to do the jobs in question.  Indeed, the white employees hired before the requirements were imposed performed entirely satisfactorily. 

In December 1970, Jack Greenberg presented argument in the Supreme Court on behalf of the African-American employees. In a groundbreaking decision, the Supreme Court ruled against Duke Power.  It held that Title VII “proscribes not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair...