The State of Massachusetts enacted a veteran preference statute providing that all veterans qualified for state civil service positions must be considered for appointment ahead of any qualifying non-veterans. Feeney (plaintiff) was a female non-veteran applicant for the civil service that scored very highly on a number of competitive civil service exams. However, she was passed over for employment opportunities by males with lower scores who were veterans. Feeney challenged the veteran preference statute in federal district court against the Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts (defendant), alleging that the statute disadvantaged women and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court found that the preference operated overwhelmingly to the advantage of males. Although the district court believed the statute’s stated goals were noble and that the statute was not enacted to specifically disadvantage women, the district court held the statute unconstitutional. The court of appeals affirmed, and the Personnel Administrator appealed to the United States Supreme Court.