Johnson v. Transportation Agency
480 U.S. 616 (1987)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616 (1987)

Johnson v. Transportation Agency

No. 85-1129

Argued November 12, 1986

Decided March 25, 1987

480 U.S. 616

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In 1978, an Affirmative Action Plan (Plan) for hiring and promoting minorities and women was voluntarily adopted by respondent Santa Clara County Transportation Agency (Agency). The Plan provides, inter alia, that, in making promotions to positions within a traditionally segregated job classification in which women have been significantly underrepresented, the Agency is authorized to consider as one factor the sex of a qualified applicant. The Plan is intended to achieve a statistically measurable yearly improvement in hiring and promoting minorities and women in job classifications where they are underrepresented, and the long-term goal is to attain a workforce whose composition reflects the proportion of minorities and women in the area labor force. The Plan sets aside no specific number of positions for minorities or women, but requires that short-range goals be established and annually adjusted to serve as the most realistic guide for actual employment decisions. When the Agency announced a vacancy for the promotional position of road dispatcher, none of the 238 positions in the pertinent Skilled Craft Worker job classification, which included the dispatcher position, was held by a woman. The qualified applicants for the position were interviewed and the Agency, pursuant to the Plan, ultimately passed over petitioner, a male employee, and promoted a female, Diane Joyce, both of whom were rated as well qualified for the job. After receiving a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, petitioner filed suit in Federal District Court, which held that the Agency had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court found that Joyce's sex was the determining factor in her selection, and that the Agency's Plan was invalid under the criterion announced in Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193, that the Plan be temporary. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The Agency appropriately took into account Joyce's sex as one factor in determining that she should be promoted. The Agency's Plan represents a moderate, flexible, case-by-case approach to effecting a gradual improvement in the representation of minorities and women

Page 480 U. S. 617

in the Agency's workforce, and is fully consistent with Title VII. Pp. 480 U. S. 626-640.

(a) Petitioner bears the burden of proving that the Agency's Plan violates Title VII. Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case that race or sex has been taken into account in an employer's employment decision, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a nondiscriminatory rationale for its decision, such as the existence of an affirmative action plan. The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to prove that the plan is invalid and that the employer's justification is pretextual. Pp. 480 U. S. 626-627.

(b) Assessment of the legality of the Agency's Plan must be guided by the decision in Weber. An employer seeking to justify the adoption of an affirmative action plan need not point to its own prior discriminatory practices, but need point only to a conspicuous imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories. Voluntary employer action can play a crucial role in furthering Title VII's purpose of eliminating the effects of discrimination in the workplace, and Title VII should not be read to thwart such efforts. Pp. 480 U. S. 627-630.

(c) The employment decision here was made pursuant to a plan prompted by concerns similar to those of the employer in Weber, supra. Consideration of the sex of applicants for skilled craft jobs was justified by the existence of a "manifest imbalance" that reflected underrepresentation of women in "traditionally segregated job categories." Id. at 197. Where a job requires special training, the comparison for determining whether an imbalance exists should be between the employer's workforce and those in the area labor force who possess the relevant qualifications. If a plan failed to take distinctions in qualifications into account in providing guidance for actual employment decisions, it would improperly dictate mere blind hiring by the numbers. However, the Agency's Plan did not authorize such blind hiring, but expressly directed that numerous factors be taken into account in making employment decisions, including specifically the number of female applicants qualified for particular jobs. Thus, despite the fact that no precise short-term goal was yet in place for the Skilled Craft Worker job category when Joyce was promoted, the Agency's management had been clearly instructed that they were not to hire solely by reference to statistics. The fact that only the long-term goal had been established for the job category posed no danger that personnel decisions would be made by reflexive adherence to a numerical standard. Pp. 480 U. S. 631-637.

(d) The Agency Plan did not unnecessarily trammel male employees' rights or create an absolute bar to their advancement. The Plan sets aside no positions for women, and expressly states that its goals should

Page 480 U. S. 618

not be construed as "quotas" that must be met. Denial of the promotion to petitioner unsettled no legitimate, firmly rooted expectation on his part, since the Agency Director was authorized to select any of the seven applicants deemed qualified for the job. Express assurance that a program is only temporary may be necessary if the program actually sets aside positions according to specific numbers. However, substantial evidence shows that the Agency has sought to take a moderate, gradual approach to eliminating the imbalance in its workforce, one which establishes realistic guidance for employment decisions, and which visits minimal intrusion on the legitimate expectations of other employees. Given this fact, as well as the Agency's express commitment to "attain" a balanced workforce, there is ample assurance that the Agency does not seek to use its Plan to "maintain" a permanent racial and sexual balance. Pp. 480 U. S. 637-640.

770 F.2d 752, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 480 U. S. 642. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 480 U. S. 647. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 480 U. S. 657. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, and in Parts I and II of which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 480 U. S. 657.

Page 480 U. S. 619

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent, Transportation Agency of Santa Clara County, California, unilaterally promulgated an Affirmative Action Plan applicable, inter alia, to promotions of employees. In selecting applicants for the promotional position of road dispatcher, the Agency, pursuant to the Plan, passed over petitioner Paul Johnson, a male employee, and promoted a female employee applicant, Diane Joyce. The question for decision is whether, in making the promotion, the Agency impermissibly took into account the sex of the applicants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. [Footnote 1] The District Court for the

Page 480 U. S. 620

Northern District of California, in an action filed by petitioner following receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), held that respondent had violated Title VII.App. to Pet. for Cert. 1a. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 770 F.2d 752 (1985). We granted certiorari, 478 U.S. 1019 (1986). We affirm. [Footnote 2]

I

A

In December, 1978, the Santa Clara County Transit District Board of Supervisors adopted an Affirmative Action Plan (Plan) for the County Transportation Agency. The Plan implemented a County Affirmative Action Plan, which had been adopted, declared the County, because

"mere prohibition of discriminatory practices is not enough to remedy the effects of past practices and to permit attainment of an equitable representation of minorities, women and handicapped persons."

App. 31. [Footnote 3] Relevant to this case, the Agency Plan provides that, in making promotions to positions within a traditionally segregated job classification in which women have

Page 480 U. S. 621

been significantly underrepresented, the Agency is authorized to consider as one factor the sex of a qualified applicant.

In reviewing the composition of its workforce, the Agency noted in its Plan that women were represented in numbers far less than their proportion of the County labor force in both the Agency as a whole and in five of seven job categories. Specifically, while women constituted 36.4% of the area labor market, they composed only 22.4% of Agency employees. Furthermore, women working at the Agency were concentrated largely in EEOC job categories traditionally held by women: women made up 76% of Office and Clerical Workers, but only 7.1% of Agency Officials and Administrators, 8.6% of Professionals, 9.7% of Technicians, and 22% of Service and Maintenance Workers. As for the job classification relevant to this case, none of the 238 Skilled Craft Worker positions was held by a woman. Id. at 49. The Plan noted that this underrepresentation of women in part reflected the fact that women had not traditionally been employed in these positions, and that they had not been strongly motivated to seek training or employment in them "because of the limited opportunities that have existed in the past for them to work in such classifications." Id. at 57. The Plan also observed that, while the proportion of ethnic minorities in the Agency as a whole exceeded the proportion of such minorities in the County workforce, a smaller percentage of minority employees held management, professional, and technical positions. [Footnote 4]

The Agency stated that its Plan was intended to achieve

"a statistically measurable yearly improvement in hiring, training and promotion of minorities and women throughout the Agency in all major job classifications where they are underrepresented."

Id. at 43. As a benchmark by which to evaluate progress, the Agency stated that its long-term goal was to attain a workforce whose composition reflected the proportion

Page 480 U. S. 622

of minorities and women in the area labor force. Id. at 54. Thus, for the Skilled Craft category in which the road dispatcher position at issue here was classified, the Agency's aspiration was that, eventually, about 36% of the jobs would be occupied by women.

The Plan acknowledged that a number of factors might make it unrealistic to rely on the Agency's long-term goals in evaluating the Agency's progress in expanding job opportunities for minorities and women. Among the factors identified were low turnover rates in some classifications, the fact that some jobs involved heavy labor, the small number of positions within some job categories, the limited number of entry positions leading to the Technical and Skilled Craft classifications, and the limited number of minorities and women qualified for positions requiring specialized training and experience. Id. at 56-57. As a result, the Plan counseled that short-range goals be established and annually adjusted to serve as the most realistic guide for actual employment decisions. Among the tasks identified as important in establishing such short-term goals was the acquisition of data

"reflecting the ratio of minorities, women and handicapped persons who are working in the local area in major job classifications relating to those utilized by the County Administration,"

so as to determine the availability of members of such groups who "possess the desired qualifications or potential for placement." Id. at 64. These data on qualified group members, along with predictions of position vacancies, were to serve as the basis for

"realistic yearly employment goals for women, minorities and handicapped persons in each EEOC job category and major job classification."

Ibid.

The Agency's Plan thus set aside no specific number of positions for minorities or women, but authorized the consideration of ethnicity or sex as a factor when evaluating qualified candidates for jobs in which members of such groups were poorly represented. One such job was the road dispatcher position that is the subject of the dispute in this case.

Page 480 U. S. 623

B

On December 12, 1979, the Agency announced a vacancy for the promotional position of road dispatcher in the Agency's Roads Division. Dispatchers assign road crews, equipment, and materials, and maintain records pertaining to road maintenance jobs. Id. at 23-24. The position requires, at minimum, four years of dispatch or road maintenance work experience for Santa Clara County. The EEOC job classification scheme designates a road dispatcher as a Skilled Craft Worker.

Twelve County employees applied for the promotion, including Joyce and Johnson. Joyce had worked for the County since 1970, serving as an account clerk until 1975. She had applied for a road dispatcher position in 1974, but was deemed ineligible because she had not served as a road maintenance worker. In 1975, Joyce transferred from a senior account clerk position to a road maintenance worker position, becoming the first woman to fill such a job. Tr. 83-84. During her four years in that position, she occasionally worked out of class as a road dispatcher.

Petitioner Johnson began with the County in 1967 as a road yard clerk, after private employment that included working as a supervisor and dispatcher. He had also unsuccessfully applied for the road dispatcher opening in 1974. In 1977, his clerical position was downgraded, and he sought and received a transfer to the position of road maintenance worker. Id. at 127. He also occasionally worked out of class as a dispatcher while performing that job.

Nine of the applicants, including Joyce and Johnson, were deemed qualified for the job, and were interviewed by a two-person board. Seven of the applicants scored above 70 on this interview, which meant that they were certified as eligible for selection by the appointing authority. The scores awarded ranged from 70 to 80. Johnson was tied for second

Page 480 U. S. 624

with a score of 75, while Joyce ranked next with a score of 73. A second interview was conducted by three Agency supervisors, who ultimately recommended that Johnson be promoted. Prior to the second interview, Joyce had contacted the County's Affirmative Action Office because she feared that her application might not receive disinterested review. [Footnote 5] The Office in turn contacted the Agency's Affirmative Action Coordinator, whom the Agency's Plan makes responsible for, inter alia, keeping the Director informed of opportunities for the Agency to accomplish its objectives under the Plan. At the time, the Agency employed no women in any Skilled Craft position, and had never employed a woman as a road dispatcher. The Coordinator recommended to the Director of the Agency, James Graebner, that Joyce be promoted.

Graebner, authorized to choose any of the seven persons deemed eligible, thus had the benefit of suggestions by the second interview panel and by the Agency Coordinator in arriving at his decision. After deliberation, Graebner concluded

Page 480 U. S. 625

that the promotion should be given to Joyce. As he testified:

"I tried to look at the whole picture, the combination of her qualifications and Mr. Johnson's qualifications, their test scores, their expertise, their background, affirmative action matters, things like that. . . . I believe it was a combination of all those."

Id. at 68.

The certification form naming Joyce as the person promoted to the dispatcher position stated that both she and Johnson were rated as well qualified for the job. The evaluation of Joyce read:

"Well qualified by virtue of 18 years of past clerical experience, including 3 1/2 years at West Yard plus almost 5 years as a [road maintenance worker]."

App. 27. The evaluation of Johnson was as follows:

"Well qualified applicant; two years of [road maintenance worker] experience plus 11 years of Road Yard Clerk. Has had previous outside Dispatch experience, but was 13 years ago."

Ibid. Graebner testified that he did not regard as significant the fact that Johnson scored 75 and Joyce 73 when interviewed by the two-person board. Tr. 57-58.

Petitioner Johnson filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging that he had been denied promotion on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII. He received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC on March 10, 1981, and on March 20, 1981, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The District Court found that Johnson was more qualified for the dispatcher position than Joyce, and that the sex of Joyce was the "determining factor in her selection." App. to Pet. for Cert. 4a (emphasis in original). The court acknowledged that, since the Agency justified its decision on the basis of its Affirmative Action Plan, the criteria announced in Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193 (1979), should be applied in evaluating the validity of the Plan. App. to Pet. for Cert. 5a. It then found the Agency's Plan invalid on the ground that the evidence did not satisfy Weber's criterion that the Plan be temporary. App. to Pet. for Cert. 6a. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed,

Page 480 U. S. 626

holding that the absence of an express termination date in the Plan was not dispositive, since the Plan repeatedly expressed its objective as the attainment, rather than the maintenance, of a workforce mirroring the labor force in the County. 770 F.2d at 756. The Court of Appeals added that the fact that the Plan established no fixed percentage of positions for minorities or women made it less essential that the Plan contain a relatively explicit deadline. 770 F.2d at 757. The Court held further that the Agency's consideration of Joyce's sex in filling the road dispatcher position was lawful. The Agency Plan had been adopted, the court said, to address a conspicuous imbalance in the Agency's workforce, and neither unnecessarily trammeled the rights of other employees nor created an absolute bar to their advancement. Id. at 757-759.

II

As a preliminary matter, we note that petitioner bears the burden of establishing the invalidity of the Agency's Plan. Only last Term, in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education,476 U. S. 267, 476 U. S. 277-278 (1986), we held that "[t]he ultimate burden remains with the employees to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of an affirmative action program," and we see no basis for a different rule regarding a plan's alleged violation of Title VII. This case also fits readily within the analytical framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green,411 U. S. 792 (1973). Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case that race or sex has been taken into account in an employer's employment decision, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a nondiscriminatory rationale for its decision. The existence of an affirmative action plan provides such a rationale. If such a plan is articulated as the basis for the employer's decision, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove that the employer's justification is pretextual and the plan is invalid. As a practical matter, of course, an employer will generally seek to avoid a charge of

Page 480 U. S. 627

pretext by presenting evidence in support of its plan. That does not mean, however, as petitioner suggests, that reliance on an affirmative action plan is to be treated as an affirmative defense requiring the employer to carry the burden of proving the validity of the plan. The burden of proving its invalidity remains on the plaintiff.

The assessment of the legality of the Agency Plan must be guided by our decision in Weber, supra. [Footnote 6] In that case, the

Page 480 U. S. 628

Court addressed the question whether the employer violated Title VII by adopting a voluntary affirmative action plan designed to "eliminate manifest racial imbalances in traditionally segregated job categories." Id. at 443 U. S. 197. The respondent employee in that case challenged the employer's denial of his application for a position in a newly established craft training program, contending that the employer's selection process impermissibly took into account the race of the applicants. The selection process was guided by an affirmative action plan, which provided that 50% of the new trainees were to be black until the percentage of black skilled craftworkers in the employer's plant approximated the percentage of blacks in the local labor force. Adoption of the plan had been prompted by the fact that only 5 of 273, or 1.83%, of skilled craftworkers at the plant were black, even though the workforce in the area was approximately 39% black. Because of the historical exclusion of blacks from craft positions, the employer regarded its former policy of hiring trained outsiders as inadequate to redress the imbalance in its workforce.

We upheld the employer's decision to select less senior black applicants over the white respondent, for we found that taking race into account was consistent with Title VII's objective of "break[ing] down old patterns of racial segregation and hierarchy." Id. at 443 U. S. 208. As we stated:

"It would be ironic indeed if a law triggered by a Nation's concern over centuries of racial injustice and intended to improve the lot of those who had 'been excluded from the American dream for so long' constituted

Page 480 U. S. 629

the first legislative prohibition of all voluntary, private, race-conscious efforts to abolish traditional patterns of racial segregation and hierarchy."

Id. at 443 U. S. 204 (quoting remarks of Sen. Humphrey, 110 Cong.Rec. 6552 (1964)). [Footnote 7]

Page 480 U. S. 630

We noted that the plan did not "unnecessarily trammel the interests of the white employees," since it did not require "the discharge of white workers and their replacement with new black hirees." 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 208. Nor did the plan create "an absolute bar to the advancement of white employees," since half of those trained in the new program were to be white. Ibid. Finally, we observed that the plan was a temporary measure, not designed to maintain racial balance, but to "eliminate a manifest racial imbalance." Ibid. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S concurrence made clear, Weber held that an employer seeking to justify the adoption of a plan need not point to its own prior discriminatory practices, nor even to evidence of an "arguable violation" on its part. Id. at 443 U. S. 212. Rather, it need point only to a "conspicuous . . . imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories." Id. at 443 U. S. 209. Our decision was grounded in the recognition that voluntary employer action can play a crucial role in furthering Title VII's purpose of eliminating the effects of discrimination in the workplace, and that Title VII should not be read to thwart such efforts. Id. at 443 U. S. 204. [Footnote 8]

Page 480 U. S. 631

In reviewing the employment decision at issue in this case, we must first examine whether that decision was made pursuant to a plan prompted by concerns similar to those of the employer in Weber. Next, we must determine whether the effect of the Plan on males and nonminorities is comparable to the effect of the plan in that case.

The first issue is therefore whether consideration of the sex of applicants for Skilled Craft jobs was justified by the existence of a "manifest imbalance" that reflected underrepresentation of women in "traditionally segregated job categories." Id. at 443 U. S. 197. In determining whether an imbalance exists that would justify taking sex or race into account, a

Page 480 U. S. 632

comparison of the percentage of minorities or women in the employer's workforce with the percentage in the area labor market or general population is appropriate in analyzing jobs that require no special expertise, see Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324 (1977) (comparison between percentage of blacks in employer's workforce and in general population proper in determining extent of imbalance in truck driving positions), or training programs designed to provide expertise, see Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193 (1979) (comparison between proportion of blacks working at plant and proportion of blacks in area labor force appropriate in calculating imbalance for purpose of establishing preferential admission to craft training program). Where a job requires special training, however, the comparison should be with those in the labor force who possess the relevant qualifications. See Hazelwood School District v. United States,433 U. S. 299 (1977) (must compare percentage of blacks in employer's work ranks with percentage of qualified black teachers in area labor force in determining underrepresentation in teaching positions). The requirement that the "manifest imbalance" relate to a "traditionally segregated job category" provides assurance both that sex or race will be taken into account in a manner consistent with Title VII's purpose of eliminating the effects of employment discrimination, and that the interests of those employees not benefiting from the plan will not be unduly infringed.

A manifest imbalance need not be such that it would support a prima facie case against the employer, as suggested in JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S concurrence, post at 480 U. S. 649, since we do not regard as identical the constraints of Title VII and the Federal Constitution on voluntarily adopted affirmative action plans. [Footnote 9] Application of the "prima facie" standard in Title VII cases would be inconsistent with Weber's focus on

Page 480 U. S. 633

statistical imbalance, [Footnote 10] and could inappropriately create a significant disincentive for employers to adopt an affirmative action plan. See Weber, supra, at 443 U. S. 204 (Title VII intended as a "catalyst" for employer efforts to eliminate vestiges of discrimination). A corporation concerned with maximizing return on investment, for instance, is hardly likely to adopt a plan if in order to do so it must compile evidence that could be used to subject it to a colorable Title VII suit. [Footnote 11]

Page 480 U. S. 634

It is clear that the decision to hire Joyce was made pursuant to an Agency plan that directed that sex or race be taken into account for the purpose of remedying underrepresentation. The Agency Plan acknowledged the "limited opportunities that have existed in the past," App. 57, for women to find employment in certain job classifications "where women have not been traditionally employed in significant numbers." Id. at 51. [Footnote 12] As a result, observed the Plan, women were concentrated in traditionally female jobs in the Agency, and represented a lower percentage in other job classifications than would be expected if such traditional segregation had not occurred. Specifically, 9 of the 10 Para-Professionals and 110 of the 145 Office and Clerical Workers were women. By contrast, women were only 2 of the 28 Officials and Administrators, 5 of the 58 Professionals, 12 of the 124 Technicians, none of the Skilled Craft Workers, and 1 -- who was Joyce -- of the 110 Road Maintenance Workers. Id. at 51-52. The Plan sought to remedy these imbalances through "hiring, training and promotion of . . . women throughout the Agency in all major job classifications where they are underrepresented. " Id. at 43.

Page 480 U. S. 635

As an initial matter, the Agency adopted as a benchmark for measuring progress in eliminating underrepresentation the long-term goal of a workforce that mirrored in its major job classifications the percentage of women in the area labor market. [Footnote 13] Even as it did so, however, the Agency acknowledged that such a figure could not by itself necessarily justify taking into account the sex of applicants for positions in all job categories. For positions requiring specialized training and experience, the Plan observed that the number of minorities and women "who possess the qualifications required for entry into such job classifications is limited." Id. at 56. The Plan therefore directed that annual short-term goals be formulated that would provide a more realistic indication of the degree to which sex should be taken into account in filling particular positions. Id. at 61-64. The Plan stressed that such goals "should not be construed as quotas' that must be met," but as reasonable aspirations in correcting the imbalance in the Agency's workforce. Id. at 64. These goals were to take into account factors such as

"turnover, layoffs, lateral transfers, new job openings, retirements and availability of minorities, women and handicapped persons in the area workforce who possess the desired qualifications or potential for placement."

Ibid. The Plan specifically directed that, in establishing such goals, the Agency work with the County Planning Department and other sources in attempting to compile data on the percentage of minorities and women in the local labor force that were actually working in the job classifications constituting the Agency workforce. Id. at 68-64. From the outset, therefore, the Plan sought annually to develop even more refined measures of the underrepresentation in each job category that required attention.

Page 480 U. S. 636

As the Agency Plan recognized, women were most egregiously underrepresented in the Skilled Craft job category, since none of the 238 positions was occupied by a woman. In mid-1980, when Joyce was selected for the road dispatcher position, the Agency was still in the process of refining its short-term goals for Skilled Craft Workers in accordance with the directive of the Plan. This process did not reach fruition until 1982, when the Agency established a short-term goal for that year of 3 women for the 55 expected openings in that job category -- a modest goal of about 6% for that category.

We reject petitioner's argument that, since only the long-term goal was in place for Skilled Craft positions at the time of Joyce's promotion, it was inappropriate for the Director to take into account affirmative action considerations in filling the road dispatcher position. The Agency's Plan emphasized that the long-term goals were not to be taken as guides for actual hiring decisions, but that supervisors were to consider a host of practical factors in seeking to meet affirmative action objectives, including the fact that, in some job categories, women were not qualified in numbers comparable to their representation in the labor force.

By contrast, had the Plan simply calculated imbalances in all categories according to the proportion of women in the area labor pool, and then directed that hiring be governed solely by those figures, its validity fairly could be called into question. This is because analysis of a more specialized labor pool normally is necessary in determining underrepresentation in some positions. If a plan failed to take distinctions in qualifications into account in providing guidance for actual employment decisions, it would dictate mere blind hiring by the numbers, for it would hold supervisors to

"achievement of a particular percentage of minority employment or membership . . . regardless of circumstances such as economic conditions or the number of available qualified minority applicants. . . ."

Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC, 478

Page 480 U. S. 637

U.S. 421, 478 U. S. 495 (1986) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

The Agency's Plan emphatically did not authorize such blind hiring. It expressly directed that numerous factors be taken into account in making hiring decisions, including specifically the qualifications of female applicants for particular jobs. Thus, despite the fact that no precise short-term goal was yet in place for the Skilled Craft category in mid-1980, the Agency's management nevertheless had been clearly instructed that they were not to hire solely by reference to statistics. The fact that only the long-term goal had been established for this category posed no danger that personnel decisions would be made by reflexive adherence to a numerical standard.

Furthermore, in considering the candidates for the road dispatcher position in 1980, the Agency hardly needed to rely on a refined short-term goal to realize that it had a significant problem of underrepresentation that required attention. Given the obvious imbalance in the Skilled Craft category, and given the Agency's commitment to eliminating such imbalances, it was plainly not unreasonable for the Agency to determine that it was appropriate to consider as one factor the sex of Ms. Joyce in making its decision. [Footnote 14] The promotion of Joyce thus satisfies the first requirement enunciated in Weber, since it was undertaken to further an affirmative action plan designed to eliminate Agency workforce imbalances in traditionally segregated job categories.

We next consider whether the Agency Plan unnecessarily trammeled the rights of male employees or created an absolute

Page 480 U. S. 638

bar to their advancement. In contrast to the plan in Weber, which provided that 50% of the positions in the craft training program were exclusively for blacks, and to the consent decree upheld last Term in Firefighters v. Cleveland,478 U. S. 501 (1986), which required the promotion of specific numbers of minorities, the Plan sets aside no positions for women. The Plan expressly states that "[t]he goals' established for each Division should not be construed as `quotas' that must be met." App. 64. Rather, the Plan merely authorizes that consideration be given to affirmative action concerns when evaluating qualified applicants. As the Agency Director testified, the sex of Joyce was but one of numerous factors he took into account in arriving at his decision. Tr. 68. The Plan thus resembles the "Harvard Plan" approvingly noted by JUSTICE POWELL in Regents of University of California v. Bakke,438 U. S. 265, 438 U. S. 316-319 (1978), which considers race along with other criteria in determining admission to the college. As JUSTICE POWELL observed:

"In such an admissions program, race or ethnic background may be deemed a 'plus' in a particular applicant's file, yet it does not insulate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats."

Id. at 438 U. S. 317. Similarly, the Agency Plan requires women to compete with all other qualified applicants. No persons are automatically excluded from consideration; all are able to have their qualifications weighed against those of other applicants.

In addition, petitioner had no absolute entitlement to the road dispatcher position. Seven of the applicants were classified as qualified and eligible, and the Agency Director was authorized to promote any of the seven. Thus, denial of the promotion unsettled no legitimate, firmly rooted expectation on the part of petitioner. Furthermore, while petitioner in this case was denied a promotion, he retained his employment with the Agency, at the same salary and with the same seniority, and remained eligible for other promotions. [Footnote 15]

Page 480 U. S. 639

Finally, the Agency's Plan was intended to attain a balanced workforce, not to maintain one. The Plan contains 10 references to the Agency's desire to "attain" such a balance, but no reference whatsoever to a goal of maintaining it. The Director testified that, while the "broader goal" of affirmative action, defined as "the desire to hire, to promote, to give opportunity and training on an equitable, nondiscriminatory basis," is something that is "a permanent part" of "the Agency's operating philosophy," that broader goal "is divorced, if you will, from specific numbers or percentages." Tr. 48-49.

The Agency acknowledged the difficulties that it would confront in remedying the imbalance in its workforce, and it anticipated only gradual increases in the representation of minorities and women. [Footnote 16] It is thus unsurprising that the Plan contains no explicit end date, for the Agency's flexible, case-by-case approach was not expected to yield success in a brief period of time. Express assurance that a program is

Page 480 U. S. 640

only temporary may be necessary if the program actually sets aside positions according to specific numbers. See, e.g., Firefighters, supra, at 478 U. S. 510 (4-year duration for consent decree providing for promotion of particular number of minorities); Weber, 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 199 (plan requiring that blacks constitute 50% of new trainees in effect until percentage of employer workforce equal to percentage in local labor force). This is necessary both to minimize the effect of the program on other employees, and to ensure that the plan's goals "[are] not being used simply to achieve and maintain . . . balance, but rather as a benchmark against which" the employer may measure its progress in eliminating the underrepresention of minorities and women. Sheet Metal Workers, 478 U.S. at 478 U. S. 477-478. In this case, however, substantial evidence shows that the Agency has sought to take a moderate, gradual approach to eliminating the imbalance in its workforce, one which establishes realistic guidance for employment decisions and which visits minimal intrusion on the legitimate expectations of other employees. Given this fact, as well as the Agency's express commitment to "attain" a balanced workforce, there is ample assurance that the Agency does not seek to use its Plan to maintain a permanent racial and sexual balance.

III

In evaluating the compliance of an affirmative action plan with Title VII's prohibition on discrimination, we must be mindful of "this Court's and Congress' consistent emphasis on the value of voluntary efforts to further the objectives of the law.'" Wygant, 476 U.S. at 476 U. S. 290 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (quoting Bakke, supra, at 438 U. S. 364). The Agency in the case before us has undertaken such a voluntary effort, and has done so in full recognition of both the difficulties and the potential for intrusion on males and nonminorities. The Agency has identified a conspicuous imbalance in job categories traditionally segregated by race and sex. It has made clear from the outset, however,

Page 480 U. S. 641

that employment decisions may not be justified solely by reference to this imbalance, but must rest on a multitude of practical, realistic factors. It has therefore committed itself to annual adjustment of goals, so as to provide a reasonable guide for actual hiring and promotion decisions. The Agency earmarks no positions for anyone; sex is but one of several factors that may be taken into account in evaluating qualified applicants for a position. [Footnote 17] As both the Plan's language and its manner of operation attest, the Agency has no intention of establishing a workforce whose permanent composition is dictated by rigid numerical standards.

We therefore hold that the Agency appropriately took into account as one factor the sex of Diane Joyce in determining

Page 480 U. S. 642

that she should be promoted to the road dispatcher position. The decision to do so was made pursuant to an affirmative action plan that represents a moderate, flexible, case-by-case approach to effecting a gradual improvement in the representation of minorities and women in the Agency's workforce. Such a plan is fully consistent with Title VII, for it embodies the contribution that voluntary employer action can make in eliminating the vestiges of discrimination in the workplace. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is

Affirmed.

[Footnote 1]

Section 703(a) of the Act, 78 Stat. 255, as amended, 86 Stat. 109, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e 2(a), provides that it

"shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -- "

"(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or"

"(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

[Footnote 2]

No constitutional issue was either raised or addressed in the litigation below. See 770 F.2d 752, 754, n. 1 (1985). We therefore decide in this case only the issue of the prohibitory scope of Title VII. Of course, where the issue is properly raised, public employers must justify the adoption and implementation of a voluntary affirmative action plan under the Equal Protection Clause. See Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education,476 U. S. 267 (1986).

[Footnote 3]

The Plan reaffirmed earlier County and Agency efforts to address the issue of employment discrimination, dating back to the County's adoption in 1971 of an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. App. 37-40.

[Footnote 4]

While minorities constituted 19.7% of the County labor force, they represented 7.1% of the Agency's Officials and Administrators, 19% of its Professionals, and 16.9% of its Technicians. Id. at 48.

[Footnote 5]

Joyce testified that she had had disagreements with two of the three members of the second interview panel. One had been her first supervisor when she began work as a road maintenance worker. In performing arduous work in this job, she had not been issued coveralls, although her male coworkers had received them. After ruining her pants, she complained to her supervisor, to no avail. After three other similar incidents, ruining clothes on each occasion, she filed a grievance, and was issued four pairs of coveralls the next day. Tr. 89-90. Joyce had dealt with a second member of the panel for a year and a half in her capacity as chair of the Roads Operations Safety Committee, where she and he "had several differences of opinion on how safety should be implemented." Id. at 90-91. In addition, Joyce testified that she had informed the person responsible for arranging her second interview that she had a disaster preparedness class on a certain day the following week. By this time, about 10 days had passed since she had notified this person of her availability, and no date had yet been set for the interview. Within a day or two after this conversation, however, she received a notice setting her interview at a time directly in the middle of her disaster preparedness class. Id. at 94-95. This same panel member had earlier described Joyce as a "rebel-rousing, skirt-wearing person," id. at 153.

[Footnote 6]

JUSTICE SCALIA's dissent maintains that the obligations of a public employer under Title VII must be identical to its obligations under the Constitution, and that a public employer's adoption of an affirmative action plan therefore should be governed by Wygant. This rests on the following logic: Title VI embodies the same constraints as the Constitution; Title VI and Title VII have the same prohibitory scope; therefore, Title VII and the Constitution are coterminous for purposes of this case. The flaw is with the second step of the analysis, for it advances a proposition that we explicitly considered and rejected in Weber. As we noted in that case, Title VI was an exercise of federal power "over a matter in which the Federal Government was already directly involved," since Congress "was legislating to assure federal funds would not be used in an improper manner." 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 206, n. 6.

"Title VII, by contrast, was enacted pursuant to the commerce power to regulate purely private decisionmaking, and was not intended to incorporate and particularize the commands of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Title VII and Title VI, therefore, cannot be read in pari materia."

Ibid. This point is underscored by Congress' concern that the receipt of any form of financial assistance might render an employer subject to the commands of Title VI rather than Title VII. As a result, Congress added § 604 to Title VI, 78 Stat. 263, as set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-3, which provides:

"Nothing contained in this subchapter shall be construed to authorize action under this subchapter by any department or agency with respect to any employment practice of any employer, employment agency, or labor organization except where a primary objective of the Federal financial assistance is to provide employment."

The sponsor of this section, Senator Cooper, stated that it was designed to clarify that "it was not intended that [T]itle VI would impinge on [T]itle VII." 110 Cong.Rec. 11616 (1964).

While public employers were not added to the definition of "employer" in Title VII until 1972, there is no evidence that this mere addition to the definitional section of the statute was intended to transform the substantive standard governing employer conduct. Indeed, "Congress expressly indicated the intent that the same Title VII principles be applied to governmental and private employers alike." Dothard v. Rawlinson,433 U. S. 321, 433 U. S. 332, n. 14 (1977). The fact that a public employer must also satisfy the Constitution does not negate the fact that the statutory prohibition with which that employer must contend was not intended to extend as far as that of the Constitution.

[Footnote 7]

JUSTICE SCALIA's dissent maintains that Weber's conclusion that Title VII does not prohibit voluntary affirmative action programs "rewrote the statute it purported to construe." Post at 480 U. S. 670. Weber's decisive rejection of the argument that the "plain language" of the statute prohibits affirmative action rested on (1) legislative history indicating Congress' clear intention that employers play a major role in eliminating the vestiges of discrimination, 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 201-204, and (2) the language and legislative history of § 703(j) of the statute, which reflect a strong desire to preserve managerial prerogatives so that they might be utilized for this purpose. Id. at 443 U. S. 204-207. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN said in his concurrence in Weber,

"[I]f the Court has misperceived the political will, it has the assurance that, because the question is statutory, Congress may set a different course if it so chooses."

Id. at 443 U. S. 216. Congress has not amended the statute to reject our construction, nor have any such amendments even been proposed, and we therefore may assume that our interpretation was correct.

JUSTICE SCALlA's dissent faults the fact that we take note of the absence of congressional efforts to amend the statute to nullify Weber. It suggests that congressional inaction cannot be regarded as acquiescence under all circumstances, but then draws from that unexceptional point the conclusion that any reliance on congressional failure to act is necessarily a "canard." Post at 480 U. S. 672. The fact that inaction may not always provide crystalline revelation, however, should not obscure the fact that it may be probative to varying degrees. Weber, for instance, was a widely publicized decision that addressed a prominent issue of public debate. Legislative inattention thus is not a plausible explanation for congressional inaction. Furthermore, Congress not only passed no contrary legislation in the wake of Weber, but not one legislator even proposed a bill to do so. The barriers of the legislative process therefore also seem a poor explanation for failure to act. By contrast, when Congress has been displeased with our interpretation of Title VII, it has not hesitated to amend the statute to tell us so. For instance, when Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k),

"it unambiguously expressed its disapproval of both the holding and the reasoning of the Court in [General Electric Co. v. Gilbert,429 U. S. 125 (1976)]."

Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC,462 U. S. 669, 462 U. S. 678 (1983). Surely, it is appropriate to find some probative value in such radically different congressional reactions to this Court's interpretations of the same statute.

As one scholar has put it,

"When a court says to a legislature: 'You (or your predecessor) meant X,' it almost invites the legislature to answer: 'We did not.'"

G. Calabresi, A Common Law for the Age of Statutes 31-32 (1982). Any belief in the notion of a dialogue between the judiciary and the legislature must acknowledge that, on occasion, an invitation declined is as significant as one accepted.

[Footnote 8]

See also Firefighters v. Cleveland,478 U. S. 501, 478 U. S. 515 (1986) ("We have on numerous occasions recognized that Congress intended voluntary compliance to be the preferred means of achieving the objectives of Title VII"); Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.,415 U. S. 36, 415 U. S. 44 (1974) ("Cooperation and voluntary compliance were selected as the preferred means for achieving [Title VII's] goal"). JUSTICE SCALIA's suggestion that an affirmative action program may be adopted only to redress an employer's past discrimination, see post at 480 U. S. 664-665, was rejected in Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193 (1979), because the prospect of liability created by such an admission would create a significant disincentive for voluntary action. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S concurrence in that case pointed out, such a standard would

"plac[e] voluntary compliance with Title VII in profound jeopardy. The only way for the employer and the union to keep their footing on the 'tightrope' it creates would be to eschew all forms of voluntary affirmative action."

Id. at 443 U. S. 210. Similarly, JUSTICE O'CONNOR has observed in the constitutional context that

"[t]he imposition of a requirement that public employers make findings that they have engaged in illegal discrimination before they engage in affirmative action programs would severely undermine public employers' incentive to meet voluntarily their civil rights obligations."

Wygant, 476 U.S. at 476 U. S. 290 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).

Contrary to JUSTICE ScALIA's contention, post at 480 U. S. 664-668, our decisions last term in Firefighters, supra, and Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC,478 U. S. 501 (1986), provide no support for a standard more restrictive than that enunciated in Weber.Firefighters raised the issue of the conditions under which parties could enter into a consent decree providing for explicit numerical quotas. By contrast, the affirmative action plan in this case sets aside no positions for minorities or women. See infra at 480 U. S. 635. In Sheet Metal Workers, the issue we addressed was the scope of judicial remedial authority under Title VII, authority that has not been exercised in this case. JUSTICE SCALlA's suggestion that employers should be able to do no more voluntarily than courts can order as remedies, post at 480 U. S. 664-668, ignores the fundamental difference between volitional private behavior and the exercise of coercion by the State. Plainly, "Congress' concern that federal courts not impose unwanted obligations on employers and unions," Firefighters, supra, at 478 U. S. 524, reflects a desire to preserve a relatively large domain for voluntary employer action.

[Footnote 9]

Seen 6, supra.

[Footnote 10]

The difference between the "manifest imbalance" and "prima facie" standards is illuminated by Weber. Had the Court in that case been concerned with past discrimination by the employer, it would have focused on discrimination in hiring skilled, not unskilled, workers, since only the scarcity of the former in Kaiser's workforce would have made it vulnerable to a Title VII suit. In order to make out a prima facie case on such a claim, a plaintiff would be required to compare the percentage of black skilled workers in the Kaiser workforce with the percentage of black skilled craft workers in the area labor market.

Weber obviously did not make such a comparison. Instead, it focused on the disparity between the percentage of black skilled craft workers in Kaiser's ranks and the percentage of blacks in the area labor force. 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 198-199. Such an approach reflected a recognition that the proportion of black craft workers in the local labor force was likely as miniscule as the proportion in Kaiser's workforce. The Court realized that the lack of imbalance between these figures would mean that employers in precisely those industries in which discrimination has been most effective would be precluded from adopting training programs to increase the percentage of qualified minorities. Thus, in cases such as Weber, where the employment decision at issue involves the selection of unskilled persons for a training program, the "manifest imbalance" standard permits comparison with the general labor force. By contrast, the "prima facie" standard would require comparison with the percentage of minorities or women qualified for the job for which the trainees are being trained, a standard that would have invalidated the plan in Weber itself.

[Footnote 11]

In some cases, of course, the manifest imbalance may be sufficiently egregious to establish a prima facie case. However, as long as there is a manifest imbalance, an employer may adopt a plan even where the disparity is not so striking, without being required to introduce the nonstatistical evidence of past discrimination that would be demanded by the "prima facie" standard. See, e.g., Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, 431 U. S. 339 (1977) (statistics in pattern and practice case supplemented by testimony regarding employment practices). Of course, when there is sufficient evidence to meet the more stringent "prima facie" standard, be it statistical, nonstatistical, or a combination of the two, the employer is free to adopt an affirmative action plan.

[Footnote 12]

For instance, the description of the Skilled Craft Worker category, in which the road dispatcher position is located, is as follows:

"Occupations in which workers perform jobs which require special manual skill and a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the process involved in the work which is acquired through on-the-job training and experience or through apprenticeship or other formal training programs. Includes: mechanics and repairmen; electricians, heavy equipment operators, stationary engineers, skilled machining occupations, carpenters, compositors and typesetters, and kindred workers."

App. 108.

As the Court of Appeals said in its decision below,

"A plethora of proof is hardly necessary to show that women are generally underrepresented in such positions and that strong social pressures weigh against their participation."

748 F.2d at 1313.

[Footnote 13]

Because of the employment decision at issue in this case, our discussion henceforth refers primarily to the Plan's provisions to remedy the underrepresentation of women. Our analysis could apply as well, however, to the provisions of the plan pertaining to minorities.

[Footnote 14]

In addition, the Agency was mindful of the importance of finally hiring a woman in a job category that had formerly been all male. The Director testified that, while the promotion of Joyce "made a small dent, for sure, in the numbers," nonetheless

"philosophically it made a larger impact in that it probably has encouraged other females and minorities to look at the possibility of so-called 'non-traditional' jobs as areas where they and the agency both have samples of a success story."

Tr. 64.

[Footnote 15]

Furthermore, from 1978 to 1982, Skilled Craft jobs in the Agency increased from 238 to 349. The Agency's personnel figures indicate that the Agency fully expected most of these positions to be filled by men. Of the 111 new Skilled Craft jobs during this period, 105, or almost 95%, went to men. As previously noted, the Agency's 1982 Plan set a goal of hiring only 3 women out of the 55 new Skilled Craft positions projected for that year, a figure of about 6%. While this degree of employment expansion by an employer is by no means essential to a plan's validity, it underscores the fact that the Plan in this case in no way significantly restricts the employment prospects of such persons. Illustrative of this is the fact that an additional road dispatcher position was created in 1983, and petitioner was awarded the job. Brief for Respondent Transportation Agency 36, n. 35.

[Footnote 16]

As the Agency Plan stated, after noting the limited number of minorities and women qualified in certain categories, as well as other difficulties in remedying underrepresentation:

"As indicated by the above factors, it will be much easier to attain the Agency's employment goals in some job categories than in others. It is particularly evident that it will be extremely difficult to significantly increase the representation of women in technical and skilled craft job classifications where they have traditionally been greatly underrepresented. Similarly, only gradual increases in the representation of women, minorities or handicapped persons in management and professional positions can realistically be expected, due to the low turnover that exists in these positions and the small numbers of persons who can be expected to compete for available openings."

App. 58.

[Footnote 17]

JUSTICE SCALIA'S dissent predicts that today's decision will loose a flood of "less qualified" minorities and women upon the workforce, as employers seek to forestall possible Title VII liability. Post at 480 U. S. 673-677. The first problem with this projection is that it is by no means certain that employers could in every case necessarily avoid liability for discrimination merely by adopting an affirmative action plan. Indeed, our unwillingness to require an admission of discrimination as the price of adopting a plan has been premised on concern that the potential liability to which such an admission would expose an employer would serve as a disincentive for creating an affirmative action program. Seen 8, supra.

A second, and more fundamental, problem with JUSTICE SCALIA'S speculation is that he ignores the fact that

"[i]t is a standard tenet of personnel administration that there is rarely a single 'best qualified' person for a job. An effective personnel system will bring before the selecting official several fully qualified candidates who each may possess different attributes which recommend them for selection. Especially where the job is an unexceptional, middle-level craft position, without the need for unique work experience or educational attainment and for which several well qualified candidates are available, final determinations as to which candidate is 'best qualified' are at best subjective."

Brief for the American Society for Personnel Administration as Amicus Curiae 9.

This case provides an example of precisely this point. Any differences in qualifications between Johnson and Joyce were minimal, to say the least. See supra at 480 U. S. 623-625. The selection of Joyce thus belies JUSTICE SCALlA's contention that the beneficiaries of affirmative action programs will be those employees who are merely not "utterly unqualified." Post at 480 U. S. 675.

JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring.

While I join the Court's opinion, I write separately to explain my view of this case's position in our evolving antidiscrimination law and to emphasize that the opinion does not establish the permissible outer limits of voluntary programs undertaken by employers to benefit disadvantaged groups.

I

Antidiscrimination measures may benefit protected groups in two distinct ways. As a sword, such measures may confer benefits by specifying that a person's membership in a disadvantaged group must be a neutral, irrelevant factor in governmental or private decisionmaking or, alternatively, by compelling decisionmakers to give favorable consideration to disadvantaged group status. As a shield, an antidiscrimination statute can also help a member of a protected class by assuring decisionmakers in some instances that, when they elect for good reasons of their own to grant a preference of some sort to a minority citizen, they will not violate the law. The Court properly holds that the statutory shield allowed respondent to take Diane Joyce's sex into account in promoting her to the road dispatcher position.

Prior to 1978, the Court construed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as an absolute blanket prohibition against discrimination which neither required nor permitted discriminatory preferences

Page 480 U. S. 643

for any group, minority or majority. The Court unambiguously endorsed the neutral approach, first in the context of gender discrimination [Footnote 2/1] and then in the context of racial discrimination against a white person. [Footnote 2/2] As I explained in my separate opinion in Regents of University of California v. Bakke,438 U. S. 265, 438 U. S. 412-418 (1978), and as the Court forcefully stated in McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co.,427 U. S. 273, 427 U. S. 280 (1976), Congress intended

"'to eliminate all practices which operate to disadvantage the employment opportunities of any group protected by Title VII, including Caucasians'"

(citations omitted). If the Court had adhered to that construction of the Act, petitioner would unquestionably prevail in this case. But it has not done so.

Page 480 U. S. 644

In the Bakke case in 1978 and again in Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193 (1979), a majority of the Court interpreted the antidiscriminatory strategy of the statute in a fundamentally different way. The Court held in the Weber case that an employer's program designed to increase the number of black craftworkers in an aluminum plant did not violate Title VII. [Footnote 2/3] It remains clear that the Act does not require any employer to grant preferential treatment on the basis of race or gender, but since 1978, the Court has unambiguously interpreted the statute to permit the voluntary adoption of special programs to benefit members of the minority groups for whose protection the statute was enacted. Neither the "same standards" language used in McDonald nor the "color blind" rhetoric used by the Senators and Congressmen who enacted the bill is now controlling. Thus, as was true in Runyon v. McCrary,427 U. S. 160, 427 U. S. 189 (1976) (STEVENS, J., concurring), the only problem for me is whether to adhere to an authoritative construction of the Act that is at odds with my understanding of the actual intent of the authors of the legislation. I conclude without hesitation that I must answer that question in the affirmative, just as I did in Runyon.Id. at 427 U. S. 191-192.

Bakke and Weber have been decided, and are now an important part of the fabric of our law. This consideration is sufficiently compelling for me to adhere to the basic construction of this legislation that the Court adopted in Bakke and in Weber. There is an undoubted public interest in "stability and orderly development of the law." 427 U.S. at 427 U. S. 190. [Footnote 2/4]

Page 480 U. S. 645

The logic of antidiscrimination legislation requires that judicial constructions of Title VII leave "breathing room" for employer initiatives to benefit members of minority groups. If Title VII had never been enacted, a private employer would be free to hire members of minority groups for any reason that might seem sensible from a business or a social point of view. The Court's opinion in Weber reflects the same approach; the opinion relied heavily on legislative history indicating that Congress intended that traditional management prerogatives be left undisturbed to the greatest extent possible. See 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 206-207. As we observed last Term,

""[i]t would be ironic indeed if a law triggered by a Nation's concern over centuries of racial injustice and intended to improve the lot of those who had been excluded from the American dream for so long' constituted the first legislative prohibition of all voluntary, private, race-conscious efforts to abolish traditional patterns of racial segregation and hierarchy.""

Firefighters v. Cleveland,478 U. S. 501, 478 U. S. 516 (1986) (quoting Weber, 443 U.S. at 443 U. S. 204). In Firefighters, we again acknowledged Congress' concern in Title VII to avoid "undue federal interference with managerial discretion." 478 U.S. at 478 U. S. 519. [Footnote 2/5]

Page 480 U. S. 646

As construed in Weber and in Firefighters, the statute does not absolutely prohibit preferential hiring in favor of minorities; it was merely intended to protect historically disadvantaged groups against discrimination, and not to hamper managerial efforts to benefit members of disadvantaged groups that are consistent with that paramount purpose. The preference granted by respondent in this case does not violate the statute as so construed; the record amply supports the conclusion that the challenged employment decision served the legitimate purpose of creating diversity in a category of employment that had been almost an exclusive province of males in the past. Respondent's voluntary decision is surely not prohibited by Title VII as construed in Weber.

II

Whether a voluntary decision of the kind made by respondent would ever be prohibited by Title VII is a question we need not answer until it is squarely presented. Given the interpretation of the statute the Court adopted in Weber, I see no reason why the employer has any duty, prior to granting a preference to a qualified minority employee, to determine whether his past conduct might constitute an arguable violation of Title VII. Indeed, in some instances the employer may find it more helpful to focus on the future. Instead of retroactively scrutinizing his own or society's possible exclusions of minorities in the past to determine the outer limits of a valid affirmative action program -- or indeed, any particular affirmative action decision -- in many cases the employer will find it more appropriate to consider other legitimate reasons to give preferences to members of underrepresented groups.

Page 480 U. S. 647

Statutes enacted for the benefit of minority groups should not block these forward-looking considerations.

"Public and private employers might choose to implement affirmative action for many reasons other than to purge their own past sins of discrimination. The Jackson school board, for example, said it had done so in part to improve the quality of education in Jackson -- whether by improving black students' performance or by dispelling for black and white students alike any idea that white supremacy governs our social institutions. Other employers might advance different forward-looking reasons for affirmative action: improving their services to black constituencies, averting racial tension over the allocation of jobs in a community, or increasing the diversity of a workforce, to name but a few examples. Or they might adopt affirmative action simply to eliminate from their operations all de facto embodiment of a system of racial caste. All of these reasons aspire to a racially integrated future, but none reduces to 'racial balancing for its own sake.'"

Sullivan, The Supreme Court -- Comment, Sins of Discrimination: Last Term's Affirmative Action Cases, 100 Harv.L.Rev. 78, 96 (1986).

The Court today does not foreclose other voluntary decisions based in part on a qualified employee's membership in a disadvantaged group. Accordingly, I concur.

[Footnote 2/1]

"Discriminatory preference for any group, minority or majority, is precisely and only what Congress has proscribed. What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification."

Griggs v. Duke Power Co.,401 U. S. 424, 401 U. S. 431 (1971).

[Footnote 2/2]

"Similarly the EEOC, whose interpretations are entitled to great deference, [401 U.S.] at 401 U. S. 433-434, has consistently interpreted Title VII to proscribe racial discrimination in private employment against whites on the same terms as racial discrimination against nonwhites, holding that to proceed otherwise would"

"constitute a derogation of the Commission's Congressional mandate to eliminate all practices which operate to disadvantage the employment opportunities of any group protected by Title VII, including Caucasians."

"EEOC Decision No. 74-31, 7 FEP Cases 1326, 1328, CCH EEOC Decisions

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