University Press of Kansas Logo

The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace

The Griggs v. Duke Power Story

Robert Belton

Edited by Stephen L. Wasby

March 2014
424 pages, 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1953-5, $39.95
Ebook ISBN 978-0-7006-1980-1. $39.95

book cover imageOn March 8, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., brought by thirteen African American employees who worked as common laborers and janitors at one of Duke Power’s facilities. The decision, in plaintiffs’ favor, marked a profound and enduring challenge to the dominance of white males in the workplace. In this book, Robert Belton, who represented the plaintiffs for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and argued the case in the lower courts, gives a firsthand account of legal history in the making—and a behind-the-scenes look at the highly complex process of putting civil rights law to work.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eliminated much blatant discrimination, but after its enactment and before Griggs, businesses held the view that a commitment to equality required only eliminating policies and practices that were intentionally discriminatory—the “disparate treatment” test.

In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Supreme Court ruled that a “disparate impact” test could also apply—that the 1964 Civil Rights Act extended to practices with a discriminatory effect. In tracing the impact of the Griggs ruling on employment practices, this book documents the birth, maturation, death, and rebirth of the disparate impact theory, including its erosion by later Supreme Court decisions and its restoration by congressional action in the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Belton conducts us through this historic case from the original lawsuit to the Supreme Court decision in Griggs and beyond as he traces the post-Griggs developments in the lower courts, the Supreme Court, and Congress; he provides informed insights into both litigators’ and judges’ perspectives and decision-making. His work situates the case in its legal, social, and historical contexts and explores the relationship between public and private enforcement of the law, with a focus on the Legal Defense Fund’s litigation campaign against employment discrimination. A detailed examination of the development of legal principles under Title VII, this book tells the story of this seminal decision on equal employment law and offers an unprecedented close-up view of personal conviction, legal strategy, and historical forces combining to effect dramatic social change.

“This excellent book is not only an insider's story of the most important employment discrimination case ever decided by the Supreme Court but also a blow by blow account of a three decade effort to redress workplace inequality. Both tough-minded litigator and meticulous scholar, Robert Belton's excellent rendering of a series of epic courtroom battles is a must read for lawyers, historians and policy makers.”—Michael Meltsner, author of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer and former First Assistant Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund

“This book, in many ways, is the seminal Title VII history. While other scholars have provided a wide range of articles and a few notable books on fair employment laws, their histories and their impact, Professor Robert K. Belton was for decades the leading scholar on Title VII case law. His contributions are many. His roll call of legal activists, lawyers and plaintiffs alike, present important threads to consider as investigations beyond the standard debate gain scholarly popularity. Professor Belton moves readers into the post-Griggs era where politicized debates work to smear the gains made as debates about affirmative action and preferential treatment dominated the public discourse. He reminds us that these debates often occurred without any real connection to the employment realities that demanded the federal courts to usher in such edicts. This is a book that captures a life’s work.”—Robert S. Smith, author of Race, Labor & Civil Rights: Griggs v. Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity

ROBERT BELTON (1935-2012), at the time of his death, was Professor Emeritus of Law at Vanderbilt University, where he had also been the University’s first tenured African American law professor. STEPHEN L. WASBY, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University at Albany - State University of New York, lives in Eastham, Mass.

Facebook button