From Wards Cove to Ricci: Struggling Against the 'Built-In Headwinds' of a Skeptical Court

20 Pages Posted: 11 May 2011

See all articles by Melissa Hart

Melissa Hart

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: May 10, 2011


When the Supreme Court in 1971 first recognized disparate impact as a legal theory under Title VII, the Court explained that the "absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as ‘built-in headwinds’ for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability." Forty years later, it is the built-in headwinds of a Supreme Court skeptical of - perhaps even hostile to - the goals of disparate impact theory that pose the greatest challenge to continued movement toward workplace equality. The essay examines the troubled trajectory that disparate impact law has taken in the Court's jurisprudence, considering how the Supreme Court, Congress, lower courts and employers all interact in the application and enforcement of the principles of equality underlying Title VII.

Keywords: discrimination, disparate impact, Supreme Court, Civil Rights Act

JEL Classification: K40, K41, J70, J71, J78

Suggested Citation

Hart, Melissa, From Wards Cove to Ricci: Struggling Against the 'Built-In Headwinds' of a Skeptical Court (May 10, 2011). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 46, 2011; U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-07. Available at SSRN:

Melissa Hart (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
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303-735-6344 (Phone)

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