Griggs, along with a number of other black men employed by Duke Power Co. filed a class action lawsuit against the company because of a company rule that required to have employees who were internally transferring departments to have a high school diploma and passed certain tests. Griggs argued that a high school diploma and the aptitude tests were not indicative of how well they could do their job. Griggs’s class action suit claimed that the rule violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited employers from discriminating against protected classes when hiring workers. The Supreme Court sided with Griggs that the company rule violated the Civil Rights Act. The court held that the purpose of Title VII was to ensure equal access to employment regardless of race. The aptitude test and high school diploma requirement would burden one race disproportionately more than the other, as the public education system in North Carolina significantly disadvantages blacks. The court went further, writing that even if the company rule was not racially motivated, it was still discriminatory and therefore illegal (although the court seemed to think it was racial, this ensured that the company would not find a loophole). In order for a company to have such a rule, it needs to be related to the specific job and the performance required for such. Griggs set precedent for what is known as “disparate impact” lawsuits, which discuss the impact that a rule or law has on different groups of people. This case placed the burden of showing why certain requirements need to be met for positions and proving that they are non-discriminatory. This burden would later be lessened in Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio (1989).

Griggs v. Duke Power Co. 

401 U.S. 424 (1971)

(Adverse Impact and Employment Discrimination)


Congress provided, in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for class actions for enforcement of provisions of the Act and this proceeding was brought by a group of incumbent Negro employees against Duke Power Company. All the petitioners are employed at the Company's Dan River Steam Station, a power generating facility located at Draper, North Carolina. At the time this action was instituted, the Company had 95 employees at the Dan River Station, 14 of whom were Negroes; 13 of these are petitioners here.

The District Court found that prior to July 2, 1965, the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Company openly discriminated on the basis of race in the hiring and assigning of employees at its Dan River plant. The plant was organized into five operating departments: (1) Labor, (2) Coal Handling, (3) Operations, (4) Maintenance, and (5) Laboratory and Test. Negroes were employed only in the Labor Department where the highest paying jobs paid less than the lowest paying jobs in the other four "operating" departments in which only whites were employed. Promotions were normally made within each department on the basis of job seniority. Transferees into a department usually began in the lowest position.

In 1955 the Company instituted a policy of requiring a high school education for initial assignment to any department except Labor, and for transfer from the Coal Handling to any "inside" department (Operations, Maintenance, or Laboratory). When the Company abandoned its policy of restricting Negroes to the Labor Department in 1965, completion of high school also was made a prerequisite to transfer from Labor to any other department. From the time the high school requirement was instituted to the time of trial, however, white employees hired before the time of the high school education requirement continued to perform satisfactorily and achieve promotions in the "operating" departments. Findings on this score are not challenged.

The Company added a further requirement for new employees on July 2, 1965, the date on which Title VII became effective. To qualify for placement in any but the Labor Department it became necessary to register satisfactory scores on two professionally prepared aptitude tests, as well as to have a high school education. Completion of high school alone continued to render employees eligible for transfer to the four desirable departments from which Negroes had been excluded if the incumbent had been employed prior to the time of the new requirement. In September 1965 the Company began to permit incumbent employees who lacked a high school education to qualify for transfer from Labor or Coal Handling to an "inside" job by passing two tests -- the Wonderlic Personnel Test, which purports to measure general intelligence, and the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test. Neither was directed or intended to measure the ability to learn to perform a particular job or category of jobs. The requisite scores used for both initial hiring and transfer approximated the national median for high school graduates.

Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971) 

Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971) 

Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971) 


Whether an employer is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, from requiring a high school education or passing of a standardized general intelligence test as a condition of employment in or transfer to jobs when (a) neither standard is shown to be significantly related to successful job performance, (b) both requirements operate to disqualify Negroes at a substantially higher rate than white applicants, and (c) the jobs in question formerly had been filled only by white employees as part of a longstanding practice of giving preference to whites.


The objective of Congress in the enactment of Title VII is plain from the language of the statute. It was to achieve equality of employment opportunities and remove barriers that have operated in the past to favor an identifiable group of white employees over other employees. Under the Act, practices, procedures, or tests neutral on their face, and even neutral in terms of intent, cannot be maintained if they operate to "freeze" the status quo of prior discriminatory employment practices.

The Act does not command that any person be hired simply because he was formerly the subject of discrimination, or because he is a member of a minority group. Discriminatory preference for any group, minority or majority, is precisely and only what Congress has proscribed. What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification.

The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation. The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited.

On the record before us, neither the high school completion requirement nor the general intelligence test is shown to bear a demonstrable relationship to successful performance of the jobs for which it was used. Both were adopted, as the Court of Appeals noted, without meaningful study of their relationship to job-performance ability. Rather, a vice president of the Company testified, the requirements were instituted on the Company's judgment that they generally would improve the overall quality of the work force.

The evidence, however, shows that employees who have not completed high school or taken the tests have continued to perform satisfactorily and make progress in departments for which the high school and test criteria are now used. The promotion record of present employees who would not be able to meet the new criteria thus suggests the possibility that the requirements may not be needed even for the limited purpose of preserving the avowed policy of advancement within the Company. In the context of this case, it is unnecessary to reach the question whether testing requirements that take into account capability for the next succeeding position or related future promotion might be utilized upon a showing that such long-range requirements fulfill a genuine business need. In the present case,the Company has made no such showing.

Good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as "built-in headwinds" for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability. 

The Company's lack of discriminatory intent is suggested by special efforts to help the undereducated employees through Company financing of two-thirds the cost of tuition for high school training. But Congress directed the thrust of the Act to the consequences of employment practices, not simply the motivation. More than that, Congress has placed on the employer the burden of showing that any given requirement must have a manifest relationship to the employment in question.

Justice Burger decides Griggs v. Duke Power Co.


Nothing in the Act precludes the use of testing or measuring procedures; obviously,they are useful. What Congress has forbidden is giving these devices and mechanisms controlling force unless they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance. Congress has not commanded that the less qualified be preferred over the better qualified simply because of minority origins. Far from disparaging job qualifications as such, Congress has made such qualifications the controlling factor, so that race, religion, nationality, and sex become irrelevant. What Congress has commanded is that any tests used must measure the person for the job and not the person in the abstract.

Is there anything we left out? Anything we should remove? Let us know your thoughts!


Key Takeaway

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is violated when employment requirements have a disparate impact on minorities and are not related to successful job performance even if there is no discriminatory intent.

Court Syllabus:

Negro employees at respondent's generating plant brought this action, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, challenging respondent's requirement of a high school diploma or passing of intelligence tests as a condition of employment in or transfer to jobs at the plant. These requirements were not directed at or intended to measure ability to learn to perform a particular job or category of jobs. While § 703 (a) of the Act makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to limit, segregate, or classify employees to deprive them of employment opportunities or adversely to affect their status because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, § 703 (h) authorizes the use of any professionally developed ability test, provided that it is not designed, intended, or used to discriminate. The District Court found that respondent's former policy of racial discrimination had ended and that Title VII, being prospective only, did not reach the prior inequities. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, rejecting the holding that residual discrimination arising from prior practices was insulated from remedial action, but agreed with the lower court that there was no showing of discriminatory purpose in the adoption of the diploma and test requirements. It held that absent such discriminatory purpose, use of the requirements was permitted, and rejected the claim that because a disproportionate number of Negroes was rendered ineligible for promotion, transfer, or employment, the requirements were unlawful unless shown to be job related. 


1. The Act requires the elimination of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment that operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of race, and, if, as here, an employment practice that operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, it is prohibited, notwithstanding the employer's lack of discriminatory intent.

2. The Act does not preclude the use of testing or measuring procedures, but it does proscribe giving them controlling force unless they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance.

How the Justices Voted

Majority: Burger, joined by unanimous