American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson

456 U.S. 63, 102 S. Ct. 1534, 71 L. Ed. 2d 748 (1982)

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American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson

United States Supreme Court
456 U.S. 63, 102 S. Ct. 1534, 71 L. Ed. 2d 748 (1982)

Facts

American Tobacco Company (American) (defendant) operated manufacturing plants in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to 1963, Black employees were assigned to lower-paying jobs in the plants’ prefabrication departments, while higher-paying jobs in the plants’ fabrication departments were primarily reserved for White employees. In 1963, American implemented a promotions policy based on seniority plus job qualifications. However, nearly all of the open jobs in the plants’ fabrication departments were still filled by White employees. In 1968, American proposed a lines-of-progression system for classifying jobs in the plant. An employee could not work in the top job in each line until the employee had worked in the bottom job. Four lines of progression contained top and bottom jobs that were nearly-all-White fabrication jobs. The top jobs in these White lines of progression were some of the highest paying positions at American’s plants. Two other lines of progression contained top and bottom jobs that were all-Black prefabrication jobs. The tobacco-workers’ union (defendant) accepted and ratified the lines-of-progression system in 1969. John Patterson and other Black employees (plaintiffs) sued American and the union, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and 42 U.S.C § 1981. The district court enjoined American and the union from using the six lines of progression. American and the union moved to vacate the injunction, arguing that under § 703(h) of Title VII, bona fide seniority systems with a discriminatory impact on minorities were immune from challenge absent evidence of actual intent to discriminate. The district court denied the motion, and the appellate court affirmed, holding that immunity under § 703(h) did not apply to seniority systems adopted after Title VII’s effective date in 1965. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

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