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U.S. Supreme Court

American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63 (1982)

American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson

No. 80-1199

Argued January 19, 1982

Decided April 5, 1982

456 U.S. 63


Section 703(h) 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, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority or merit system, . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

Actions were brought in Federal District Court by black employees of petitioner employer and by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that certain lines of progression for job advancement established by the employer in agreement with petitioner labor union after the effective date of the Act constituted a racially discriminatory seniority system in violation of Title VII of the Act. The actions were consolidated for trial and injunctive relief was initially granted, but ultimately the Court of Appeals, without deciding whether the lines of progression were part of a seniority system, held that even if they were, § 703(h) does not apply to seniority systems adopted after the effective date of the Act.

Held: Section 703(h) is not limited to seniority systems adopted before the effective date of the Act. To construe it as so limited is contrary to § 703(h)'s plain language, inconsistent with this Court's prior cases, and counter to the national labor policy. And there is nothing in the legislative history to indicate that § 703(h) does not protect post-Act adoption of a bona fide seniority system or that Congress intended to distinguish between adoption and application of such a system. Pp. 456 U. S. 68-77.

634 F.2d 744, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL, REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 77. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion,post, p. 456 U. S. 86.

Page 456 U. S. 64

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