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 Weber.
    • 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.
      • "The prohibition 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 statute.'"
    • The Court applied the soft plain meaning rule to interpret the Statute.
      • 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!