Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e, proscribes not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation. 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 touchstone is business necessity.
A group of minority employees at a power company brought a class action against their employer in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleging that the employer violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requiring a high school diploma and a satisfactory intelligence test score for certain jobs previously limited to white employees, so as to preserve the effects of the employer's past racial discrimination. The District Court dismissed their complaint. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court's holding that residual discrimination arising from past employment practices was insulated from remedial action, but it affirmed the District Court's holding that absent a discriminatory purpose, the diploma and test requirements were proper. The United States Supreme Court grated certiorari.
Is an employer 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 minorities 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 white employees?
It was held that the Civil Rights Act prohibits an employer 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 the test is not unrelated to job performance and continues a discriminatory practice. Nothing in the Civil Rights Act precludes the use of testing or measuring procedures. 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. Any tests used must measure the person for the job and not the person in the abstract.