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KEY DISCRIMINATION CASES

Compiled by MELANIE PICKETT

Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke (June 28, 1978): The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the UC Davis Medical School discriminated against Allan Bakke, a white, when it denied him admission to the school, and orders that he be admitted. The medical school’s admissions policy, designed to increase the number of minorities in the white-dominated medical profession, set aside 16 of the 100 openings for racial minorities. Bakke argued that he was better qualified than some of the students admitted under the special program. While the decision abolishes rigid minority quotas, it also approves the use of race among other factors in determining college admissions.

United Steelworkers of America, Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. and the U.S. vs. Weber (June 27, 1979): The court rules that Brian F. Weber, who sued Kaiser in 1974 after he was refused participation in a craft training program, was not the victim of reverse discrimination. Patterned after the Bakke case, Weber’s lawsuit challenged the program’s policy of accepting minority and white employees on an equal, one-for-one basis, charging that the selection of black workers with less seniority made him a victim of discrimination.

Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 vs. EEOC; Firefighters Local 93 vs. City of Cleveland (July 2, 1986): The court finds a union representing sheet metal workers in New York and New Jersey guilty of racial discrimination and orders it to increase its nonwhite membership. In the case involving the firefighters union, the justices approve a plan that reserves about half the promotions in Cleveland’s fire department for qualified minority candidates. The union had challenged the plan, saying that the preferences unlawfully discriminate against whites.

Wygant vs. Jackson (Mich.) Board of Education (May 20, 1986): The Supreme Court decision finds a local school district plan providing special job protections for minority teachers unconstitutional. The court upholds the reverse-discrimination claims of a group of white teachers who were laid off under an agreement between the district and the teachers union that protected blacks from layoffs even if they had less seniority than whites. In the court’s majority opinion, the justices agree that the layoff plan violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution, saying that affirmative action programs must be carefully drawn and may not be justified merely by a general “societal discrimination” against minorities.

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Richmond vs. Croson Co. (Jan. 23, 1989): The court rules that city and state officials may not steer contracts toward blacks and other minorities, except to make up for a clear history of discrimination. The decision strikes down a Richmond, Va., plan that guaranteed blacks and other minorities at least 30% of that city’s construction contracts. While the action has no effect on affirmative action by private employers, it does cast doubt on laws in 36 states, including California, as well as 190 cities and counties that set quotas or give preference to minority members in bidding for contracts.

Price Waterhouse vs. Hopkins (May 1, 1989): The court decides that women and other minority plaintiffs must prove that discriminatory attitudes by management are a “substantial” reason for being denied a promotion but need not show that these attitudes “caused” it. If the plaintiff can establish that point, the burden of proof switches to the managers, who in order to avoid liability must show that promotion was denied ultimately for reasons other than sexism or other improper bias.

Wards Cove vs. Atonio (June 5, 1989): The Supreme Court reverses a unanimous 1971 ruling that had allowed aggrieved employees to sue when statistics indicated a pattern of discrimination, even if an individual could not point to specific signs of prejudice. The ruling shifts the burden of proof in certain suits from defendants to plaintiffs, making it more difficult for minorities and women to win cases based on statistics that show disparities in the number of jobs held by white men versus those held by minorities and women.

Martin vs. Wilks (June 12, 1989): The court rules that employees--usually white males--can sue to reopen affirmative action court settlements if they feel they were subject to reverse discrimination. The ruling threatens to invalidate dozens of settlements involving police, firefighters and other public employees.

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Patterson vs. McLean Credit Union (June 15, 1989): The court rules that a black person who is harassed on the job because of his race cannot sue his employer for damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The post-Civil War federal law, enacted after reports that newly freed slaves were being intimidated by their former masters, states that “citizens of every race and color . . . shall have the same rights” as whites to buy and sell property and “to make and enforce contracts.” According to the decision, the law bars employers or schools from denying jobs, promotions or enrollment to blacks, Latinos or others because of their race, but it does not apply to general discrimination or abusive treatment once they are on the job or in school.


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