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Johnson v. Transportation Agency of Santa Clara County

United States Supreme Court
480 U.S. 616 (1987)


In 1978, the Transportation Agency of Santa Clara County, California (Agency) (defendant) instituted a self-imposed Affirmative Action Plan (Plan) to improve the longstanding underrepresentation of women and minorities in the Agency’s workforce. At the time, the Agency employed fewer women, in proportion to the local labor market, across the Agency and within certain job classifications. To address this, the Plan provided that in making promotion decisions for “traditionally segregated” job positions, the Agency could consider sex as one factor when comparing qualified applicants. The Plan encouraged the establishment of short-term goals, to be reevaluated each year, as the most practical means of making employment decisions. The Plan did not set quotas; it merely authorized the Agency to take sex into account when choosing among similarly qualified applicants seeking jobs in which women were not well represented. Paul Johnson (plaintiff), a male employee, and his female co-worker, Diane Joyce, both sought a promotion to road dispatcher, a position that no women held at the time. Johnson and Joyce were comparably qualified, and they both scored well in a first interview. After a second interview with a three-person panel, the panel members recommended that Johnson receive the promotion. Joyce had contacted the Agency’s Affirmative Action Office to express concerns she had about receiving an unbiased interview due to past conflicts with two of the panel members. An affirmative action coordinator contacted the Agency’s director, who was authorized to make the final promotion decision, and recommended that Joyce be promoted. After considering a number of factors, including Joyce’s and Johnson’s relative qualifications, backgrounds, and interview performances, as well as affirmative action concerns, the director promoted Joyce. Johnson sued the Agency, alleging that in selecting Joyce, it unlawfully took sex into account in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The district court concluded that Johnson was more qualified than Joyce and that sex had been the determining factor in selecting Joyce. The Plan was thus held invalid. The court of appeals reversed, and Johnson petitioned for review by the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)

Concurrence (O’Connor, J.)

Concurrence (Stevens, J.)

Dissent (Scalia, J.)

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