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Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins

Supreme Court of the United States

October 31, 1988, Argued ; May 1, 1989, Decided

No. 87-1167


 [*231]  [***276]  [**1780]    JUSTICE BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join.

Ann Hopkins was a senior manager in an office of Price Waterhouse when she was  [**1781]  proposed for partnership in 1982.  She was neither offered nor denied admission to the partnership; instead, her candidacy was held for reconsideration the following year. When the partners in her office later refused  [*232]  to repropose her for partnership, she sued Price Waterhouse under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq., charging that the firm had discriminated against her on the basis of sex in its decisions regarding partnership. Judge Gesell in [****4]  the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in her favor on the question of liability, 618 F. Supp. 1109 (1985), and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. 263 U.S. App. D. C. 321, 825 F. 2d 458 (1987). We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Courts of Appeals concerning the respective burdens of proof of a defendant and plaintiff in a suit under Title VII when it has been shown that an employment decision resulted from a mixture of legitimate and illegitimate motives. 485 U.S. 933 (1988).

At Price Waterhouse, a nationwide professional accounting partnership, a senior manager becomes a candidate for partnership when the partners in her local office submit her name as a candidate. All of the other partners in the firm are then invited to submit written comments on each candidate -- either on a "long" or a "short" form, depending on the partner's degree of exposure to the candidate. Not every partner in the firm submits comments on every candidate. After reviewing the comments and interviewing the partners who submitted them, the firm's Admissions Committee makes a recommendation [****5]  to the Policy Board. This recommendation will be either that the firm accept the candidate for partnership, put her application on "hold," or deny her the promotion outright. The Policy Board then decides whether to submit the candidate's name to the entire partnership for a vote, to "hold" her candidacy, or to reject her. The recommendation of the Admissions Committee, and the decision of the Policy Board, are not controlled by fixed guidelines: a certain number of positive comments from partners will not guarantee a candidate's admission to the partnership, nor will a specific  [*233]  quantity of negative comments necessarily defeat her application. Price Waterhouse places no limit on the number of persons whom it will admit to the partnership in any given year.

 [***277]  Ann Hopkins had worked at Price Waterhouse's Office of Government Services in Washington, D. C., for five years when the partners in that office proposed her as a candidate for partnership. Of the 662 partners at the firm at that time, 7 were women. Of the 88 persons proposed for partnership that year, only 1 -- Hopkins -- was a woman. Forty-seven of these candidates were admitted to the partnership, [****6]  21 were rejected, and 20 -- including Hopkins -- were "held" for reconsideration the following year. 2 Thirteen of the 32 partners who had submitted comments on Hopkins supported her bid for partnership. Three partners recommended that her candidacy be placed on hold, eight stated that they did not have an informed opinion about her, and eight recommended that she be denied partnership.

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490 U.S. 228 *; 109 S. Ct. 1775 **; 104 L. Ed. 2d 268 ***; 1989 U.S. LEXIS 2230 ****; 57 U.S.L.W. 4469; 49 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 954; 49 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P38,936



Disposition:  263 U.S. App. D. C. 321, 825 F. 2d 458, reversed and remanded.


title vii, sex, cases, employment decision, plurality, motive, gender, causation, partnership, but-for, stereotyping, illegitimate, comments, decisions, burden of proof, shift a burden, evaluations, evidentiary, words, candidate, discriminatory, disparate treatment, candidacy, reasons, played, impermissible, burden of persuasion, discriminated, courts, woman

Business & Corporate Compliance, Protection of Rights, Federally Assisted Programs, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Labor & Employment Law, Disability Discrimination, Evidence, General Overview, Torts, Elements, Causation, Causation in Fact, Gender & Sex Discrimination, Scope & Definitions, Discrimination, Title VII Discrimination, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Burden Shifting, EEOC & State Actions, Defenses, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Damages, Monetary Damages, Employment Practices