Toward a Definitive History of Griggs v. Duke Power Co.
42 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2014
Date Written: January 23, 2014
When Griggs v. Duke Power Co. was unanimously handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 8, 1971, the decision did not draw prominent headlines. However, knowledgeable judges, scholars, and litigators quickly acknowledged how Griggs, a case involving employment discrimination, actually had an import far beyond several more historically notable rulings that likewise were handed down during the first six months of that year.
Yet the high regard in which some jurists, law professors, and lawyers held Griggs did not mean — just as on the day it first came down — that the case was significantly memorialized far and wide. Perhaps the best and most fully informed scholarly history of the Burger Court, which handed down the Griggs landmark decision and which was written by the late Bernard Schwartz, never even once mentions Griggs. The best-known biographies of the Justices who heard the case likewise without exception fail to ever mention it.
Indeed, despite the best efforts of an energetic and enterprising journalist covering Griggs’s twentieth anniversary to plumb historians’ interest in the case, a complaint from this Essay’s author summed up his findings: “Even though Griggs is a huge touchstone, there’s little history about it.” And so, this author was extremely pleased to discover Professor Robert Belton’s almost definitive history of early employment equality litigation, The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace. Belton’s posthumously published work encompasses not only Griggs’s own particular story but also all of the related developments and litigation concerning Title VII from the 1960s on through the 1990s. With enlightenment from Benton’s thorough account, this review essay examines the Griggs case and the surrounding issues.
Keywords: equal employment opportunity, employment discrimination, race discrimination, EEO Title VII, Civil Rights Act, NAACP, Robert Belton, workplace equality, disparate impact, African-American employees
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