Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Educ.
476 U.S. 267 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Educ., 476 U.S. 267 (1986)

Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education

No. 84-1340

Argued November 6, 1985

Decided May 19, 1986

476 U.S. 267

Syllabus

The collective bargaining agreement between respondent Board of Education (Board) and a teachers' union provided that, if it became necessary to lay off teachers, those with the most seniority would be retained, except that at no time would there be a greater percentage of minority personnel laid off than the current percentage of minority personnel employed at the time of the layoff. After this layoff provision was upheld in litigation arising from the Board's noncompliance with the provision, the Board adhered to it, with the result that, during certain school years, nonminority teachers were laid off, while minority teachers with less seniority were retained. Petitioners, displaced nonminority teachers, brought suit in Federal District Court, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause and certain federal and state statutes. Dismissing the suit on cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court upheld the constitutionality of the layoff provision, holding that the racial preferences granted by the Board need not be grounded on a finding of prior discrimination but were permissible under the Equal Protection Clause as an attempt to remedy societal discrimination by providing "role models" for minority schoolchildren. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is reversed.

746 F.2d 1152, reversed.

JUSTICE POWELL, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concluded that the layoff provision violates the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 476 U. S. 273-278.

(a) In the context of affirmative action, racial classifications must be justified by a compelling state purpose, and the means chosen by the State to effectuate that purpose must be narrowly tailored. Pp. 476 U. S. 273-274.

(b) Societal discrimination alone is insufficient to justify a racial classification. Rather, there must be convincing evidence of prior discrimination by the governmental unit involved before allowing limited use of racial classifications to remedy such discrimination. The "role model" theory employed by the District Court would allow the Board to engage in discriminatory hiring and layoff practices long past the point required by any legitimate remedial purpose. Moreover, it does not

Page 476 U. S. 268

bear any relationship to the harm caused by prior discriminatory hiring practices. Societal discrimination, without more, is too amorphous a basis for finding race-conscious state action and for imposing a racially classified remedy. Pp. 476 U. S. 274-276.

(c) If the purpose of the layoff provision was to remedy prior discrimination, as the Board claims, such purpose, to be constitutionally valid, would require the District Court to make a factual determination that the Board had a strong basis in evidence for its conclusion that remedial action was necessary. No such finding has ever been made. Pp. 476 U. S. 277-278.

JUSTICE POWELL, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concluded that, as a means of accomplishing purposes that otherwise may be legitimate, the layoff provision is not sufficiently narrowly tailored. Other, less intrusive means of accomplishing similar purposes -- such as the adoption of hiring goals -- are available . Pp. 476 U. S. 279-284.

JUSTICE WHITE concluded that respondent Board of Education's layoff policy has the same effect, and is equally violative of the Equal Protection Clause, as integrating a workforce by discharging whites and hiring blacks until the latter comprise a suitable percentage of the workforce. Pp. 476 U. S. 294-295.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR concluded that the layoff provision is not "narrowly tailored" to achieve its asserted remedial purpose, because it acts to maintain levels of minority hiring set by a hiring goal that has no relation to the remedying of employment discrimination. Pp. 476 U. S. 293-294.

POWELL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, and in all but Part IV of which O'CONNOR, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 476 U. S. 284. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 476 U. S. 294. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 476 U. S. 295. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 476 U. S. 313.

Page 476 U. S. 269

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