The central focus of the inquiry in a case brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., is whether the employer is treating some people less favorably than others because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. A prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas raises an inference of discrimination only because the courts presume the acts, if otherwise unexplained, are more likely than not based on the consideration of impermissible factors.
Three black bricklayers sought employment on a particular job with a corporation which routinely delegated the task of hiring a work force to the superintendent of a particular job. The superintendent did not accept applications at the jobsite but hired only bricklayers whom he knew were experienced and competent or who had been recommended as similarly skilled. The bricklayers, after two were never offered employment and the third was hired only long after he had initially applied, brought suit against the corporation claiming employment discrimination. The District Court held that the bricklayers had not proved a case of discrimination, and that the corporation's hiring practices were justified as a business necessity. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the bricklayers had made out a prima facie case of employer discrimination by showing (1) that a job applicant belonged to a racial minority, (2) that he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants, (3) that he was rejected despite his qualifications, and (4) that, after his rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of the applicant's qualifications, and, finding no justification of business necessity, the court devised a hiring procedure whereby the employer would take written applications, with inquiry as to qualifications and experience, and then check, evaluate, and compare those claims against the qualifications and experience of the bricklayers with whom the superintendent was already acquainted.
Was there racial discrimination in the corporations employment process?
The Court held that (1) the Court of Appeals erred in apparently equating the prima facie showing under the standard set forth in McDonnell Douglas with an ultimate finding of fact as to discriminatory refusal to hire under Title VII, and in imposing the hiring procedure, at least until a violation of Title VII had been proven, and (2) the Court of Appeals also erred in concluding that once a prima facie showing had been made, statistics of a racially balanced work force were totally irrelevant to the question of the employer's motive, since while such proof neither was nor could have been sufficient to demonstrate conclusively that the employer's actions were not discriminatorily motivated, the District Court was entitled to consider the racial mix of the work force when trying to make the determination as to motivation.