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43 Managerial L. 5 (2001)

handle is hein.journals/ijlm43 and id is 1 raw text is: An Overview of U.S. Supreme Court
Decisions in Employment
Discrimination Cases
by Tracy Nelson and Brian H. Kleiner
Introduction
The United States did not begin the deliberate elimination of discrimination in employment
until it was outlawed with the passing of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before
then, there were few legal prohibitions against discrimination in the workplace; thus dis-
crimination by employers and unions went largely unaddressed. Since 1964, numerous
laws against employment discrimination have surfaced. These laws seek to prevent dis-
crimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and age by em-
ployers. The discriminatory practices these laws pertain to include biases in hiring, pro-
motion, job assignment, termination, compensation, and various types of harassment. The
main body of employment discrimination laws is composed of federal and state statutes.
Because the primary assault on employment discrimination has been legislative, the Su-
preme Court has not taken voluminous action in this area. However, the Court has played a
significant role in shaping the meaning and the scope of employment discrimination legis-
lation. Although most employment discrimination cases never make it to the Supreme
Court level, the Court has indeed addressed a handful of cases. These cases are extremely
important for managers of businesses today to be aware of so they can enforce employment
discrimination laws in their companies. In addition, managers may look to these cases for
guidance to avoid possible discrimination situations. The first three cases discussed are
those that are recognised as the most significant employment discrimination rulings and
used as precedent in many other cases. The remaining cases are more recent and offer some
very significant decisions in dealing with issues that have evolved recently.
Background
The Supreme Court gave impetus to the concept of fair employment back in 1944 in Steele
v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. The decision announced that trade unions operating
under the Railway Labor Act owe black employees a duty to represent non-union or mi-
nority union members of the craft without hostile discrimination, fairly, impartially, and in
good faith (Jones, 1987). While the concept did not prove to be effective against union
discrimination, it did set a tone of Supreme Court receptivity to the matter of fairness in
employment.
Between 1948 and 1961, the Court decided a series of cases involving civil rights, none
of which had any major impact on employment. However, this judicial activity at the Su-
preme Court level established a positive atmosphere and contributed to the hope that equal
justice under the law was achievable. These decisions also contributed to the willingness of
activists to increase their efforts to secure genuine equality. This resulted in the Civil
Rights Act of 1964.
Managerial Law                                                          5

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