FURNCO CONSTR. CORP. V. WATERS, 438 U. S. 567 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567 (1978)

Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters

No. 77-369

Argued April 17, 1978

Decided June 29, 1978

438 U.S. 567


Petitioner corporation specializes in relining blast furnaces with "firebrick." It maintains no permanent force of bricklayers, but delegates to the superintendent of a particular job the task of hiring a workforce. Respondents, three black bricklayers, sought employment with petitioner on a particular job, but two of them, though fully qualified, were never offered employment, and the third was hired only long after he had initially applied. The job superintendent, pursuant to industry practice, did not accept applications at the jobsite, but hired only bricklayers who he knew were experienced and competent or who had been recommended to him as similarly skilled. Respondents brought suit against petitioner claiming employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court held, inter alia, that respondents had not proved a case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U. S. 792, and that petitioner's hiring practices were justified as a "business necessity" in that they were required for the safe and efficient operation of petitioner's business. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondents had made out a prima facie case of employment discrimination under McDonnell Douglas, which petitioner had not effectively rebutted. Disagreeing with the District Court's finding that petitioner's hiring practices were justified as a business necessity, the Court of Appeals devised a hiring procedure whereby petitioner would take written applications, with inquiry as to qualifications and experience, and then check, evaluate, and compare those claims against the qualifications and experience of other bricklayers with whom the superintendent was already acquainted, thereby allowing petitioner to consider the qualifications of more minority applicants.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in its treatment of the nature of the evidence necessary to rebut a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas, and in substituting its own judgment as to the proper hiring practices for an employer who claims its hiring practices do not violate Title VII. Pp. 438 U. S. 575-580.

(a) While the Court of Appeals was justified in concluding that, as a matter of law, respondents had made out a prima facie case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas, the court went awry in apparently equating such a prima facie showing with an ultimate finding

Page 438 U. S. 568

of fact as to discriminatory refusal to hire under Title VII, and the court's imposition of a hiring method enabling the employer to consider, and perhaps to hire, more minority employees finds no support in either the nature of the prima facie case or Title VII's purpose. Courts may not impose such a remedy on an employer, at least until a violation of Title VII has been proved, and here none had been proved under the reasoning of either the District Court or the Court of Appeals. Pp. 438 U. S. 575-578.

(b) The Court of Appeals also appears improperly to have concluded that, once a McDonnell Douglas prima facie showing had been made out, statistics offered by petitioner to show that its workforce was racially balanced were totally irrelevant to the question of motive. A McDonnell Douglas showing is not the equivalent of a factual finding of discrimination, but simply proof of actions taken by the employer from which discriminatory animus can be inferred because experience has proved that, in the absence of any other explanation, it is more likely than not those actions were based on impermissible considerations. The employer, therefore, must be allowed some latitude to introduce evidence bearing on his motive. Thus, although petitioner's statistics were not and could not be sufficient to demonstrate conclusively that its actions were not discriminatorily motivated, the District Court was entitled to consider the racial mix of the workforce when making a determination as to motivation, and the Court of Appeals should likewise give similar consideration to such proof in any further proceedings. Pp. 438 U. S. 579-580.

551 F.2d 1085, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 581.

Page 438 U. S. 569

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