California Brewers Assn. v. Bryant,
444 U.S. 598 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

California Brewers Assn. v. Bryant, 444 U.S. 598 (1980)

California Brewers Assn. v. Bryant

No. 78-1548

Argued November 27, 1979

Decided February 20, 1980

444 U.S. 598


As an exception to the rule making it unlawful for an employer to engage in practices, procedures, or tests that operate to "freeze" the status quo of prior discriminatory employment practices, § 703 (h) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority system if such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race. A multiemployer brewery industry collective bargaining agreement accorded greater benefits, with respect to hiring and layoffs, to "permanent" than to "temporary" employees, and provided that a temporary employee must work at least 45 weeks in a single calendar year before he can become a permanent employee. Respondent Bryant (hereafter respondent), a Negro, brought a class action in District Court against petitioner association, petitioner employers, and several labor unions, alleging, inter alia, that the defendants had discriminated against him and other Negroes in violation of Title VII, and, in particular, that the agreement's 45-week requirement had operated to preclude him and the members of his class from achieving, or from a reasonable opportunity of achieving, permanent employee status. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the 45-week requirement was not a "seniority system" or part of a "seniority system" within the meaning of § 703(h), and accordingly remanded the case to the District Court to enable respondent to prove that such requirement has had a discriminatory impact on Negroes.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in holding that the 45-week requirement is not a component of a "seniority system" within the meaning of § 703(h). The fact that the system created by the agreement establishes two parallel seniority ladders, one allocating benefits due temporary employees and the other identifying the benefits owed permanent employees, does not prevent it from being a "seniority system" within the meaning of § 703(h). The 45-week requirement, correspondingly, serves the needed function of establishing the threshold requirement for entry into the permanent employee seniority track. Cf. 431 U. S.

Page 444 U. S. 599

United States, 431 U. S. 324. Unlike such criteria as educational standards, aptitude or physical tests, or standards that give effect to subjectivity, but like any "seniority" rule, the 45-week requirement focuses on length of employment. Moreover, the requirement does not distort the operation of the basic system established by the agreement, which rewards employment longevity with heightened benefits, since, as a general rule, the more seniority a temporary employee accumulates, the more likely it is that he will be able to satisfy the 45-week requirement. Pp. 444 U. S. 605-611.

585 F.2d 421, vacated and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 444 U. S. 611. POWELL and STEVENS, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 444 U. S. 600

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