The U.S. Supreme Court rules that workers “adversely affected” by affirmative action plans may file lawsuits alleging discrimination.
1989 (Jun 12)
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that workers "who are adversely affected by court-approved affirmative action plans may file lawsuits alleging discrimination." The high Court's ruling came in a case from Birmingham, Alabama, which had adopted an affirmative action plan, with federal court approval, in 1981 after Blacks had filed suit "charging that the city had engaged in discriminatory hiring and promotions." However, white fire fighters challenged the plan, claiming that it denied them promotions because of their race. The Supreme Court agreed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that, contrary to previous appellate court findings that prohibited "secondary attacks on court-approved affirmative action plans," the white fire fighters did have a right to sue. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, “A voluntary settlement... between one group of employees and their employer cannot possibly settle, voluntarily or otherwise, the conflicting claims of another group of employees who do not join in the agreement." Justices Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and John Paul Stevens dissented. Justice Stevens called the majority opinion ""unfathomable” and said it would “subject large employers who seek to comply with the law by remedying past discrimination to a never-ending stream of litigation and potential liability."