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U.S. Supreme Court

Board of Educ. of City Sch. Dist. v. Harris, 444 U.S. 130 (1979)

Board of Education of the City of School District of New York

No. 78-873

Argued October 9, 10 1979

Decided November 28, 1979

444 U.S. 130


Section 702(b) of the Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA or Act) states that the Act's purpose is to provide federal financial assistance

"to meet the special needs incident to the elimination of minority group segregation and discrimination among students and faculty in elementary and secondary schools,"

to encourage "the voluntary elimination, reduction, or prevention of minority group isolation" in such schools, and to aid schoolchildren "in overcoming the educational disadvantages of minority group isolation." Section 703 pronounces as federal policy that guidelines and criteria established pursuant to the Act should "be applied uniformly in all regions of the United States." And § 706(d)(1)(B) declares an educational agency ineligible for assistance if, after the date of the Act, it had in effect any practice "which results in the disproportionate demotion or dismissal of instructional or other personnel from minority groups" or "otherwise engage[s] in discrimination . . . in the hiring, promotion, or assignment of employees." Petitioner Board of Education's applications for ESAA assistance were denied by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), based upon statistical evidence flowing from a compliance investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and showing a pattern of racially disproportionate assignments of minority teachers in the school system in relation to the number of minority students enrolled at the respective schools. No substantive rebuttal or explanation for the statistical disparities was presented. Petitioner Board then brought suit in District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the racially disproportionate teacher assignments resulted from provisions of state law, provisions of collective bargaining agreements, licensing requirements for particular teaching positions, a bilingual instruction consent decree, and demographic changes in student population. The District Court concluded that HEW should have considered these proffered justifications for the statistical disparities, and remanded the case to HEW for

Page 444 U. S. 131

further consideration. On remand, HEW determined that such justifications did not adequately rebut the prima facie evidence of discrimination established by the statistics, and the District Court upheld HEW's finding of ineligibility and denied relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner Board's contention that HEW was required to establish that the statistical disparities resulted from purposeful or intentional discrimination in the constitutional sense.


1. Discriminatory impact is the standard by which ineligibility under ESAA is to be measured, irrespective of whether the discrimination relates to "demotion or dismissal of instructional or other personnel" or to "the hiring, promotion, or assignment of employees." The overall structure of the Act, Congress' statements of purpose and policy in §§ 702 and 703, the legislative history, and the text of § 706(d)(1)(B) all point in the direction of such a disparate impact test. To treat as ineligible only an applicant with a past or a conscious present intent to perpetuate racial isolation would defeat the stated objective of ending de facto as well as de jure segregation. Pp. 444 U. S. 140-150.

2. A prima facie case of discriminatory impact may be made by a proper statistical study. The burden of rebutting such a statistical case is on the petitioner Board. P. 444 U. S. 151.

584 F.2d 576, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 444 U. S. 152.

Page 444 U. S. 132

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