Griggs v. Duke Power Co. historical marker

Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (J-124)

Landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, March 1971, prohibited discriminatory practices by employers. Plaintiffs were Black employees of plant in Eden.

Location: State Road 1962 (Kings Hwy) between hospital and public library, Eden
County: Rockingham
Original Date Cast: 2023

Title VII (aka Fair Employment Act) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-15 (1970), “prohibits discrimination in employment on grounds of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It creates the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is authorized to receive charges of discrimination, to investigate such charges, and where it has reasonable cause to believe a charge is true, to attempt to eliminate the alleged discriminatory employment practice by informal conciliation and persuasion. If conciliation fails, the charging party is entitled to sue in federal district court.”

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Duke Power’s Dan River Steam Station employed African Americans only in the labor department, performing janitorial and low-level maintenance work. All other jobs in the facility were reserved for white workers. The highest paid Black workers, some with 20 plus years’ experience made less than the lowest paid white workers.

Duke Power’s response to the Fair Employment Act was to require that applicants for “inside” (or traditionally “white”) jobs must complete a battery of stringent written intelligence and skills tests. Duke Power also created a new position in the traditionally African American labor department entitled “auxiliary service man.” It was for men who “exhibited…extraordinary skills” that might deserve more money despite not having a high school diploma. At the time of the Griggs case, no one held the position. According to Alfred Blumrosen in Strangers in Paradise: Griggs v. Duke Power Co. and the Concept of Employment Discrimination, Duke Power’s responses to Title VII essentially left three types of Black employees there:

“1. Blacks possessing high school diplomas who were in the labor department by virtue of the racial assignment. They had not transferred to previously white units prior to the filing of the complaint with the EEOC.

2. Blacks hired into the labor department before July 2, 1965, who did not have high school diplomas. They had to pass the two tests to transfer into the white departments, whether they were hired before or after the high school diploma requirement was implemented in 1955.

3. Black applicants for new employment after July 2, 1965. To obtain employment in what was previously the black department, they had to pass a simple test. To be employed in a formerly white department, they had to have earned a high school diploma and to pass the two tests. The same standards were applied to white applicants for employment.”

The plaintiffs in the case were African American employees Willie Boyd, Junior Blackstock, James S. Tucker, William C. Purcell, Clarence Jackson, Eddie Galloway, Lewis Hairston Jr., Robert Jumper, Jesse C. Martin, Herman E. Martin, Eddie Broadnax, Willie Griggs, and W. Clarence Purcell. Their complaint was that the high school diploma requirement and the battery of tests did not directly predict the ability to do a job, such as coal handler at the Dan River Station, and served only to subordinate African American employees.

The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled on March 8, 1971, in favor of the plaintiffs. As Blumrosen described it, “Griggs redefines discrimination in terms of consequence rather than motive, effect rather than purpose.” The ruling invalidated hiring practices that were based on education and testing that was not predictive of job performance.

Alfred W. Blumrosen, Strangers in Paradise: Griggs v. Duke Power Co. and the Concept of Employment Discrimination, 71 Mich. L. Rev. 59 (1972).
Robert Belton, The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace: The Griggs v. Duke Power Story, 2014.
Robert Samuel Smith, Race, Labor & Civil Rights: Griggs versus Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity, 2008.
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