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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Wards Cove Packing Co. et al.
Frank Atonio et al.
(argued the cause for the petitioners)
(argued the cause for the respondents)
Facts of the Case 

Wards Cove Packing Co. employed primarily nonwhite workers for unskilled seasonal jobs canning fish. A group of nonwhite workers filed suit in federal district court alleging that Wards Cove practiced discriminatory hiring in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As evidence, the group compared the high percentage of nonwhites in unskilled work with the high percentage of whites in skilled work. The District Court rejected this claim because it found that Ward received unskilled workers through a hiring agency that enrolled primarily nonwhites. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. It held that Ward had the burden of proof to show that its hiring practices were not discriminatory after the claimants presented evidence of racial disparity.


Once employees present evidence of racial disparity among different classes of jobs, does the employer have to justify this disparity as a "business necessity" in order to avoid a "disparate impact" lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Decision: 5 votes for Wards Cove Packing Co., 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII

No. Justice Byron R. White delivered the opinion for a 5-4 court. The fact that one class of jobs at a firm has a higher percentage of nonwhites than another class does not by itself prove that the firm practices discriminatory hiring. Comparisons of race percentages among different job classes could wrongfully blame the employer, since what appears to show racial discrimination could in reality reflect the racial differences that exist in the labor market at large. Instead, the Court held that "the proper comparison is generally between the racial composition of the at-issue jobs and the racial composition of the qualified population in the relevant labor market." If a substantial difference is found, then the claimants must show that it is the result of a hiring practice of the employer.

Cite this Page
WARDS COVE PACKING CO. v. ATONIO. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_87_1387>.
WARDS COVE PACKING CO. v. ATONIO, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_87_1387 (last visited August 25, 2015).
"WARDS COVE PACKING CO. v. ATONIO," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_87_1387.