An area of discretion is left by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the private sector to voluntarily adopt affirmative action plans designed to eliminate conspicuous racial imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories. A temporary plan that mirrored Title VII and promoted more African-Americans than whites did not violate the Title.
In 1974, petitioners United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and Kaiser entered into a master collective-bargaining agreement covering terms and conditions of employment at 15 Kaiser plants. The agreement included an affirmative action plan designed to eliminate conspicuous racial imbalances in Kaiser's then almost exclusively white craftwork forces by reserving for black employees 50% of the openings in in-plant craft-training programs until the percentage of black craftworkers in a plant is commensurate with the percentage of blacks in the local labor force. This litigation arose from the operation of the affirmative action plan at one of Kaiser's plants where, prior to 1974, only 1.83% of the skilled craftworkers were black, even though the local work force was approximately 39% black. Pursuant to the national agreement, Kaiser, rather than continuing its practice of hiring trained outsiders, established a training program to train its production workers to fill craft openings, selecting trainees on the basis of seniority, with the proviso that at least 50% of the trainees were to be black until the percentage of black skilled craftworkers in the plant approximated the percentage of blacks in the local labor force. During the plan's first year of operation, seven black and six white craft trainees were selected from the plant's production work force, with the most senior black trainee having less seniority than several white production workers whose bids for admission were rejected. Thereafter, respondent Weber, one of those white production workers filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that because the affirmative action program had resulted in junior black employees' receiving training in preference to senior white employees, respondent and other similarly situated white employees had been discriminated against in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court held that the affirmative action plan violated the Civil Rights Act and entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff class, granting injunctive relief. The case was appealed.
Did the petitioners' plan violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that Title VII's prohibition against racial discrimination did not condemn all private, voluntary, race-conscious affirmative action plans. The Court also noted that petitioners' plan in particular did not violate Title VII because no state action was involved, the purposes of the plan mirrored Title VII's, and the plan did not unnecessarily trammel the interests of the white employees. The plan did not require the discharge of white workers and their replacement with new black hirees. Nor did it create an absolute bar to the advancement of white employees. Moreover, the plan was a temporary measure.