Johnson v. Transportation Agency
Annotate this Case
480 U.S. 616 (1987)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616 (1987)
Johnson v. Transportation Agency
Argued November 12, 1986
Decided March 25, 1987
480 U.S. 616
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
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
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.