Congress intended to solve the widespread problem of nonegalitarian hiring practices by enacting title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the Act), during the apogee of the civil rights era. The Act represented a national commitment to end discrimination and to promote equality in employment. The enactment of title VII spawned extensive commentary on the effect of facially neutral employment practices that perpetuated pre-Act discrimination. Particular controversy arose concerning the application of seniority rules to blacks in jobs or seniority units from which they previously had been excluded because of their race.
The problem of accommodating seniority systems and title VII arose in times of economic distress, when employers had to decide who would lose the job: the white employee who was more senior, or the minority employee whose lack of seniority was the result of historic discriminatory practices. The Supreme Court recently gave this controversy new life in its decision in Firefighters Local 1784 v. Stotts.
This Article will discuss the interplay between seniority systems and title VII. Part I will examine the conflict that arises from the exemption of seniority systems from title VII. Part II will explore judicial decisions that have addressed the seniority-title VII conflict. Part III will analyze and critique the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Stotts. Finally, Part IV will examine the continuing controversy between title VII and seniority systems and conclude that, since 1977, the Supreme Court has narrowed the relief available to claimants under title VII in a manner contrary to the purposes of the Act.
Berta E. Hernandez, Title VII v. Seniority: The Supreme Court Giveth and the Supreme Court Taketh Away, 35 Am. U. L. Rev. 339 (1986), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/541