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Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio

United States Supreme Court
490 U.S. 642 (1989)


Wards Cove Packing Co. (Wards Cove) (defendant) owned salmon canneries in remote parts of Alaska that operated only in the summer months, during salmon runs. The canneries were closed for the rest of the year. All Wards Cove employees were classified into one of two job types: cannery positions or noncannery positions. The cannery workers, considered unskilled laborers, were predominately nonwhite Filipinos and Alaska Natives. Cannery workers were largely hired from local villages surrounding the cannery facilities. Noncannery employees, considered skilled laborers, were mostly white non-locals hired during the winter months from Wards Cove’s offices in other states. All noncannery employees were paid more than cannery employees. Additionally, during salmon runs, noncannery employees lived and ate in separate dormitories and dining facilities than cannery employees. A class of cannery employees (plaintiffs) sued Wards Cove under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., alleging that the company’s various hiring, rehiring, and promotion practices had resulted in racial discrimination and challenging the segregated housing and dining arrangements. The court of appeals held the plaintiffs made a prima facie showing of disparate-impact discrimination. Wards Cove petitioned for review by the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J)

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