Pullman-Standard v. Swint
456 U.S. 273 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273 (1982)

Pullman-Standard v. Swint

No. 80-1190

Argued January 19, 1982

Decided April 27, 1982*

456 U.S. 273

Syllabus

Respondent black employees brought suit in Federal District Court against petitioners, their employer and certain unions, alleging that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was violated by a seniority system maintained by petitioners. The District Court found that the differences in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment resulting from the seniority system "are not the result of an intention to discriminate' because of race or color" and held, therefore, that the system satisfied the requirements of § 703(h) of the Act. That section provides that it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different compensation standards or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment

"pursuant to a bona fide seniority . . . system . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race."

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the differences in treatment of employees under the seniority system resulted from an intent to discriminate, and thus violated 703(h). Although recognizing that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) requires that a District Court's findings of fact not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, the Court of Appeals concluded that a finding of discrimination or nondiscrimination under § 703(h) was a finding of "ultimate fact" that the court would review by making

"an independent determination of [the] allegations of discrimination, though bound by findings of subsidiary fact which are themselves not clearly erroneous."

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in the course of its review of the District Court's judgment. Pp. 456 U. S. 276-293.

(a) Under § 703(h), a showing of a disparate impact alone is insufficient to invalidate a seniority system, even though the result may be to perpetuate pre-Act discrimination. Absent a discriminatory purpose, the operation of a seniority system is not an unlawful employment practice even if the system has some discriminatory consequences. Pp. 456 U. S. 276-277.

(b) Rule 52(a) does not divide findings of fact into those that deal with "ultimate" and those that deal with "subsidiary" facts. While the Rule

Page 456 U. S. 274

does not apply to conclusions of law, here the District Court was not faulted for applying an erroneous definition of intentional discrimination. Rather, it was reversed for arriving at what the Court of Appeals thought was an erroneous finding as to whether the differential impact of the seniority system reflected an intent to discriminate on account of race for purposes of § 703(h). That question is a pure question of fact, subject to Rule 52(a)'s clearly erroneous standard. Discriminatory intent here means actual motive; it is not a legal presumption to be drawn from a factual showing of something less than actual motive. Thus, a court of appeals may only reverse a district court's finding on discriminatory intent if it concludes that the finding is clearly erroneous under Rule 52(a). Pp. 456 U. S. 285-290.

(c) While the Court of Appeals correctly stated the controlling clearly erroneous standard of Rule 52(a), its conclusion that the challenged seniority system was unprotected by § 703(h) was the product of the court's improper independent consideration of the totality of the circumstances it found in the record. When the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court had erred in failing to consider certain relevant evidence, it improperly made its own determination based on such evidence. When a district court's finding as to discriminatory intent under § 703(h) is set aside for an error of law, the court of appeals is not relieved of the usual requirement of remanding for further proceedings to the tribunal charged with the task of factfinding in the first instance. Pp. 456 U. S. 290-293.

624 F.2d 525, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a statement concurring in part, post, p. 456 U. S. 293. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined except as to Part I, post, p. 456 U. S. 293.

Page 456 U. S. 275

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