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Law School Case Brief

Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Educ. - 476 U.S. 267, 106 S. Ct. 1842 (1986)


Evidentiary support for the conclusion that remedial action is warranted becomes crucial when the remedial program is challenged in court by nonminority employees. In such a case, the trial court must make a factual determination that the employer had a strong basis in evidence for its conclusion that remedial action was necessary. The ultimate burden remains with the employees to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of an affirmative action program. But unless such a determination is made, an appellate court reviewing a challenge by nonminority employees to remedial action cannot determine whether the race-based action is justified as a remedy for prior discrimination.


In response to racial tension in a community and its schools, the Board of Education and the teachers union in Jackson, Michigan added a "layoff provision" to their collective bargaining agreement; it required that in the event of layoffs, "teachers with the most seniority ... shall be retained, except that at no time will there be a greater percentage of minority personnel laid off than the current percentage of minority personnel employed at the time of the layoff." This provision was designed to preserve the effects of a hiring policy the goal of which had been to increase the percentage of minority teachers in the school system. When layoffs became necessary, the board adhered to the provision, with the result that certain nonminority teachers were laid off while minority teachers with less seniority were retained.


Is the race-based layoff provision constitutional?




On review, the Supreme Court rejected the role model theory and found that the lay-off policies of the respondent placed the burden of achieving racial equality solely on the nonminority teachers and this often disrupted their lives. The Court also found that the lay-off provisions were not narrowly tailored enough to promote even a compelling state interest and therefore did not satisfy the demands of Equal Protection. Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court's judgment.

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