Local 28 of Sheet Metal Workers International Association v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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478 U.S. 421 (1986), argued 25 Feb. 1986, decided 2 July 1986 by vote of 6 to 3; Brennan for the Court, White, Rehnquist, and Burger in dissent. The Supreme Court affirmed lower court orders requiring a sheet metal workers local union in New York City to establish a minority membership goal of 29 percent to be achieved by a specified date, and to maintain a fund to increase nonwhite participation in apprenticeship training and union membership. Six members of the Court rejected the argument of the Solicitor General that federal courts have no power to order numerical goals for training and promotion as a remedy for employment discrimination. A majority of the Court also rejected the argument that relief could be awarded only to identified victims of discrimination and held that judges may order race-conscious affirmative action remedies in hiring, union membership and in other contexts to rectify “egregious” discrimination.

After years of futile action by state and municipal civil rights agencies, a federal district court had found the union guilty of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against nonwhite workers in recruitment, selection, training and in admission to the union. The union was ordered to cease its discriminatory practices and to establish a nonwhite membership goal based on the percentage of nonwhites in the relevant labor pool. Twice the Court of Appeals affirmed with modifications and twice the district court found the union guilty of civil contempt for disobeying court orders.

In affirming these decisions, the Supreme Court held that affirmative action requirements were appropriate remedies for job discrimination under Title VII, and within the context of such cases, this ruling remains intact.

Herbert Hill

Subjects: Law.

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