Vanderbilt Law Review

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which became effective on July 2, 1965, was enacted to eliminate artificial barriers to employment that historically have deprived minorities and women of employment opportunities. Section 703 of the Act thus makes discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin an unlawful employment practice. In order to obtain relief from a discriminatory employment practice, an aggrieved party must demonstrate that the defendant intentionally engaged in the unlawful practice. Because the broad language of sections 703(a), 703(c), and 706(g) fails to define the terms "discriminate" and"intentionally," the effectiveness of title VII in eliminating artificial employment barriers depends upon the interpretation of these terms by the federal courts.' In its first major title VII case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the United States Supreme Court rejected the argument that a redressable violation of title VII requires a demonstration that the defendant had a subjective intent to discriminate, thereby establishing the effect of an employment practice on the employment opportunities of minorities and women as the important inquiry. The Court held that a facially neutral employment practice depriving minorities and women of employment opportunities at a rate higher than the rate at which it deprives other employees constitutes a redressable violation of title VII.

A seniority system, although neutral in its operation and in its intent, can have the effect of depriving minorities and women of employment opportunities at a rate higher than the rate at which it deprives other individuals.' A seniority system with such effect would be unlawful according to Griggs. Section 703(h) of title VII,however, immunizes "bona fide" seniority systems from illegality.Because neither the language nor legislative history of title VII defines the term "bona fide," its definition has depended upon federal court interpretation. The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Quarles v. Phillip Morris, Inc." suggested that section 703(h) did not protect a seniority system that perpetuated the effects of past discrimination. Other federal courts adopted Quarles' theory of discrimination to invalidate facially neutral seniority systems. Two recent United States Supreme Court decisions,International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States and United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, undermine the theory of discrimination enunciated in Quarles and followed by courts in other circuits. The purpose of this Recent Development is to examine the impact of these two decisions on the meaning of the term "bona fide" and to reassess the relevant scope of inquiry for determining the legality of a seniority system.