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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Jackson Board of Education
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
Facts of the Case 

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the Jackson Board of Education (Board) and a teachers' union, teachers with the most seniority would not be laid off. It was also agreed not to lay off a percentage of minority personnel that exceeded the percentage of minority personnel employed at the time of a layoff. When the schools laid off some nonminority teachers, while retaining other minority teachers with less seniority, Wendy Wygant, a displaced nonminority teacher, challenged the layoff in district court. Holding that the Board could grant racial preferences without grounding them on prior discrimination findings and that the preferences did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, since they remedied discrimination by providing "role models" for minority students, the District Court upheld the layoff provision's constitutionality. When the appeals court affirmed, the Supreme Court granted Wygant certiorari.


Did the collective bargaining agreement provision for race-based layoffs violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause?

Decision: 5 votes for Wygant, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Equal Protection

Yes. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court argued that Wygant's layoff stemmed from race and, therefore, violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Court noted that the government, when embarking on affirmative action, had two duties: first, to justify racial classification with a compelling state interest and second, to demonstrate that its chosen means were narrowly tailored to its purpose. Regarding the first, the Court rejected the lower court's argument that racial preferences were justified because the percentage of minority students exceeded the percentage of minority teachers. At best, this argument implied a separate but equal system, which the Court rejected in Brown v. Board of Education. Instead, racial preferences had to be based on prior discrimination. Second, the Court rejected the school's discrimination remedy: layoff preferences incorrectly addressed injurious prior discriminatory hiring practices since "denial of a future employment opportunity [was] not as intrusive as loss of an existing job."

Cite this Page
WYGANT v. JACKSON BOARD OF EDUCATION. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_1340>.
WYGANT v. JACKSON BOARD OF EDUCATION, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_1340 (last visited August 25, 2015).
"WYGANT v. JACKSON BOARD OF EDUCATION," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_1340.