Griggs v. Duke Power

Prior to July 1965, Duke Power Company had a longstanding policy of segregating black workers from white workers -- and allowing black workers into only all-black labor classifications, which paid less than the all-white labor classifications. This policy changed after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination in employment, became law. After Title VII, Duke Power required applicants who wanted to work in the formerly all-white classifications to pass two aptitude tests and prove that they had a high school diploma. Neither of these requirements measured an employee's ability to learn or perform the jobs.

Willie Griggs filed a class action on behalf of himself and other black workers, arguing that the new rules constituted illegal discrimination because they had the effect of making the vast majority of blacks ineligible for the higher paying jobs.   The Supreme Court agreed.  The point of Title VII was not only to address intentional discrimination.  Consequences mattered. Therefore, seemingly neutral practices that had a disparate impact on a protected class (for example, race, gender, religion) could also be illegal discrimination under the law.


 Griggs v. Duke Power


401 U.S. 424 (1971)



Negro employees at respondent's generating plant brought this action, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, challenging respondent's requirement of a high school diploma or passing of intelligence tests as a condition of employment in or transfer to jobs at the plant. These requirements were not directed at or intended to measure ability to learn to perform a particular job or category of jobs. While § 703(a) of the Act makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to limit, segregate, or classify employees to deprive them of employment opportunities or adversely to affect their status because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, § 703(h) authorizes the use of any professionally developed ability test, provided that it is not designed, intended, or used to discriminate. The District Court found that respondent's former policy of racial discrimination had ended, and that Title VII, being prospective only, did not reach the prior inequities. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, rejecting the holding that residual discrimination arising from prior practices was insulated from remedial action, but agreed with the lower court that there was no showing of discriminatory purpose in the adoption of the diploma and test requirements. It held that, absent such discriminatory purpose, use of the requirements was permitted, and rejected the claim that, because a disproportionate number of Negroes was rendered ineligible for promotion, transfer, or employment, the requirements were unlawful unless shown to be job-related.


1. The Act requires the elimination of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment that operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of race, and if, as here, an employment practice that operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, it is prohibited, notwithstanding the employer's lack of discriminatory intent.

2. The Act does not preclude the use of testing or measuring procedures, but it does proscribe giving them controlling force unless they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance.  

420 F.2d 1225, reversed in part.

To read the rest of the opinion in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., go to Nolos US Supreme Court Center.

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