In the first installment of #LegalTuesdays I want to highlight the Griggs v. Duke Power Co. case from 1971. This is one of the fundamental court cases that essentially explains the following obligations that employers have regarding:

  • Why job descriptions must not discriminate on the basis of education [or lack thereof].
  • Why employment decisions cannot be based on pre-employment tests that do not relate to a candidate’s ability to do the job.
Griggs v. Duke Power Co.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svgSupreme Court of the United States
Argued December 14, 1970
Decided March 8, 1971
Full case name Griggs et al. v. Duke Power Co.
Prior history Reversed in part, 420 F.2d 1225. Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, granted.
Subsequent history 420 F.2d 1225, reversed in part.
Broad aptitude tests used in hiring practices that disparately impact ethnic minorities must be reasonably related to the job.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Case opinions
Majority Burger, joined by unanimous court
Brennan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
Civil Rights Act of 1964[1]




Syllabus (Courtesy of Cornell University Law School – Legal Information Institute)


401 U.S. 424

Griggs v. Duke Power Co.


No. 124 Argued: December 14, 1970 — Decided: March 8, 1971

[African American] employees at respondent’s generating plant brought this action, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, challenging respondent’s requirement of a high school diploma or passing of intelligence tests as a condition of employment in or transfer to jobs at the plant. These requirements were not directed at or intended to measure ability to learn to perform a particular job or category of jobs. While § 703(a) of the Act makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to limit, segregate, or classify employees to deprive them of employment opportunities or adversely to affect their status because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, § 703(h) authorizes the use of any professionally developed ability test, provided that it is not designed, intended, or used to discriminate. The District Court found that respondent’s former policy of racial discrimination had ended, and that Title VII, being prospective only, did not reach the prior inequities. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, rejecting the holding that residual discrimination arising from prior practices was insulated from remedial action, but agreed with the lower court that there was no showing of discriminatory purpose in the adoption of the diploma and test requirements. It held that, absent such discriminatory purpose, use of the requirements was permitted, and rejected the claim that, because a disproportionate number of Negroes was rendered ineligible for promotion, transfer, or employment, the requirements were unlawful unless shown to be job-related.


1. The Act requires the elimination of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment that operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of race, and if, as here, an employment practice that operates to exclude [African Americans] cannot be shown to be related to job performance, it is prohibited, notwithstanding the employer’s lack of discriminatory intent. Pp. 429-433.

2. The Act does not preclude the use of testing or measuring procedures, but it does proscribe giving them controlling force unless [p425] they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance. Pp. 433-436.

420 F.2d 1225, reversed in part.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all members joined except BRENNAN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.