High Court Ruling Makes Proving Racial Bias Harder

By Max Boot reports from Washington | The Christian Science Monitor, June 28, 1993 | Go to article overview

High Court Ruling Makes Proving Racial Bias Harder


Max Boot reports from Washington, The Christian Science Monitor


IMAGINE this: You're a racial minority and you've been fired from your job. A white worker has taken your place. Your boss says you were laid off because you're incompetent and broke company rules. You suspect the real reason is racial bias, but you can't prove it.

What are your odds of winning a lawsuit against the company?

Until last week, they would have been pretty good. In many courts, all you had to do was show that you're a minority, that you were performing satisfactorily before you were fired, and that another person is now doing your job. It was up to the employer to prove that there were legitimate reasons for firing you.

But on Friday, the United States Supreme Court struck down that method of deciding discrimination cases brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Writing for a five-member majority, Justice Antonin Scalia held that it is not enough for a plaintiff to show that his employer lied about the reasons why he was fired. To win, the court held, a plaintiff must prove that he was fired because of racial discrimination.

"The ruling will affect an extraordinary number of cases - thousands and thousands," says Thomas Henderson of the liberal Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "It makes it much harder for plaintiffs to prove employment discrimination."

Friday's case began in 1984 when Melvin Hicks, a black correctional officer, was fired from his job at St. Mary's Honor Center, a halfway house in Missouri. His employer claimed he was fired for disciplinary reasons. Although a federal district court found that was not true, the court dismissed the case because Mr. Hicks had "not proven that the {firing} was racially rather than personally motivated. …

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