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Under § 703(h) (42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-2(h)) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., discriminatory intent is a finding of fact to be made by the trial court. It is not a question of law and not a mixed question of law and fact of the kind that in some cases may allow an appellate court to review the facts to see if they satisfy some legal concept of discriminatory intent. Discriminatory intent here means actual motive. It is not a legal presumption to be drawn from a factual showing of something less than actual motive. Thus, a court of appeals may only reverse a district court's finding on discriminatory intent if it concludes that the finding is clearly erroneous under Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a).
Respondent black employees brought suit in Federal District Court against petitioners, their employer and certain unions, alleging that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was violated by a seniority system maintained by petitioners. The District Court found that the differences in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment resulting from the seniority system "are 'not the result of an intention to discriminate' because of race or color" and held, therefore, that the system satisfied the requirements of § 703(h) of the Act. That section provides that it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different compensation standards or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment "pursuant to a bona fide seniority . . . system . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race." The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the differences in treatment of employees under the seniority system resulted from an intent to discriminate and thus violated § 703(h). Although recognizing that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) requires that a District Court's findings of fact not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, the Court of Appeals concluded that a finding of discrimination or nondiscrimination under § 703(h) was a finding of "ultimate fact" that the court would review by making "an independent determination of [the] allegations of discrimination, though bound by findings of subsidiary fact which are themselves not clearly erroneous."
Was the Federal Court of Appeals' reversal of Federal District Court ruling as to legality of seniority system under 42 USCS 2000e-2(h) proper?
The Court found that an appellate court could not set aside the district court's findings of fact unless they were clearly erroneous. Discriminatory intent was a question of fact to be made by the district court. It was not a mixed question of law and fact that the appellate court might review. The Court held that when the appellate court discerned that the district court failed to make a finding because of an erroneous view of the law, the usual rule was that the appellate court should remand for further proceedings to permit the district court to make the missing findings.