Washington v. Davis

426 U.S. 229, 96 S. Ct. 2040 (1976)



Disproportionate impact is not irrelevant, but it is not the sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination forbidden by the Constitution. Standing alone, it does not trigger the rule that racial classifications are to be subjected to the strictest scrutiny and are justifiable only by the weightiest of considerations.


In a class action brought, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, by two Negro police officers against the then Commissioner of the District of Columbia, the Chief of the District's Metropolitan Police Department and the Commissioner of the United States Civil Service Commission, the sole issue before the District Court, on motions by the plaintiffs for partial summary judgment and by the defendants for summary judgment, was the validity of a written personnel test to ascertain whether prospective police recruits had acquired a particular level of verbal skill. The plaintiffs alleged that this test discriminated against black applicants on the basis of race, because the test excluded a disproportionately high number of Negroes, and violated their rights under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, under 42 USCS 1981, and under a District of Columbia statute. The District Court granted the motion of defendants and denied the motion of plaintiffs . The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed and directed the grant of the plaintiffs' motion.


Did the exam racially discriminate against respondents?




The court reversed, holding that the appellate court erroneously applied legal standards applicable to Title VII cases. The court held a statute, which was otherwise neutral on its face had to be applied so as to invidiously discriminate on the basis of race. The police department's efforts to recruit black officers, the changing racial composition of the recruit classes, and the relationship of the test to the training program negated any inference that the police department discriminated on the basis of race or that a police officer qualified on the color of his skin rather than ability. Thus, it was error for the appellate court to direct summary judgment for the police recruits.

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