United Steelworkers of America v. Weber 443 U.S. 193, 99 S. Ct. 2721, 61 L. Ed. 2d 480 (1979)
Weber worked for Kaiser. He
applied to enter a job training program that could lead to a promotion.
His application was denied because Kaiser had a strong affirmative action
program and preferentially accepted minorities into the program.
At the time, Kaiser had very
few minority employees in senior positions. Although there were never
any allegations of any discrimination by Kaiser.
Weber sued Kaiser and the
United Steelworkers (who had bargained for the affirmative action program)
under Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964.
Civil Rights Act §703 said that "it shall be an unlawful
employment practice for an employer to limit, segregate, or classify his
employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any
individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his
status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color,
religion, sex, or national origin."
But §703 (j) said that nothing contained in Title VII
"shall be interpreted to require
any employer to grant preferential treatment to any group because of the
race of such group on account of" a de facto racial imbalance in the
employer's work force.
The Trial Court found for
The Trial Court did a
literal interpretation of the law and found that Weber had been
discriminated based on his non-minority status.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found
that based on a plain language
reading of the Statute, Weber had been discriminated on the basis or race
and that was not allowed.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court looked
beyond the explicit plain language of the Statute to its intent.
§§703 (a) and (d) of the Statute explicitly make it unlawful to
"discriminate ... because of ... race" in hiring and in the
selection of apprentices for training programs.
The Court found that the intent (aka purpose) of the Statute was to guarantee rights to
minorities. Therefore Weber's claim, while technically consistent with
the wording of the Statute was not consistent with the intent of
Congress, and therefore invalid.
against racial discrimination in §§703 (a) and (d) of I
must be read against the background of the legislative history
of Title VII and the historical
context from which the Act arose."
Congress "did not
intend to prohibit the private sector from taking effective steps"
to implement the goals of Title VII.
"An interpretation of
the statute upholding Weber's claim would, according to the Appellate
Court, 'bring about an end completely at variance with the purpose of
The Court applied the soft
plain meaning rule to interpret the
See Holy Trinity Church
v. United States (143 U.S. 457 (1892)),
which said, "it is a familiar rule that a thing may be within the
letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within
its spirit nor within the intention of its makers."
The Court suggested that
Kaiser's affirmative action program was a remedy for discrimination, and
the courts should not attempt to block a remedy to discrimination.
However, there had never been any allegations of discrimination at
Kaiser. This was a voluntary program.
The Court interpreted the
term "nothing will require"
in §703 to imply that voluntary programs were not
prohibited. That's an unlikely reading based on the legislative
history of the term.
In a concurrence, it was
argued that there was no one representing the minorities at Kaiser at the
trial. It is theoretically possible that there was a violation, and if
there was a violation, then the Court could have ordered a remedial
affirmative action process. Therefore, it must be legal for Kaiser to
take the initiative.
In addition, it was argued
that there is a Catch-22 for the employers. If Weber is right about the
legality of affirmative action programs, and the demographics are as bad
as they appeared to be at Kaiser, there is nothing that the company could
do. They'd be a sitting duck for getting sued under Title VII.
Allowing affirmative action
programs is the only reasonable way that a company could come into
voluntary compliance. Therefore, they should be legal, even if there is
nothing in the plain language or legislative
history to support the decision.
That's not 'specific
intent' about what Congress was thinking, it's more of a 'meta-intent'
because if the Congress had thought about it, they would have come to
the same practical conclusion the Court did.
In a lengthy dissent it was
argued that the plain language of
the Statute was both clear and explicit, and the courts should follow it.
To do otherwise would be to make up the law.
"Congress expressly prohibited the discrimination against Brian
Weber the Court approves now."
It was also noted that in
the legislative history, the very
idea of such affirmative action programs was discussed and then
discarded. In fact, it is clear from the legislative history that the
act would not have passed
if it had contained such language.
The dissenters believed in
the general policy, but felt that to contradict the plain language of the law was not the right thing to do.
This was something for Congress to fix, not the courts.
Btw, this case was argued (and
won) by my Property professor!