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LORANCE V. AT&T TECHNOLOGIES, INC., 490 U. S. 900 (1989)

U.S. Supreme Court

Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 490 U.S. 900 (1989)

Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc.

No. 87-1428

Argued March 20, 1989

Decided June 12, 1989

490 U.S. 900


Before 1979, collective bargaining agreements between respondents AT&T Technologies, Inc., and Local 1942, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, had determined a worker's seniority on the basis of years of plantwide service, and plantwide seniority was transferable upon promotion to a more skilled "tester" position. A new agreement executed in 1979 changed this by making seniority in tester jobs dependent upon the amount of time spent as a tester. In 1982, petitioners -- women employees who were promoted to tester positions between 1978 and 1980 -- received demotions that they would not have sustained had the former seniority system remained in place. They filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1983, and, after receiving right-to-sue letters, filed the present action in the District Court, alleging that respondents had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adopting the new seniority system with the purpose and effect of protecting incumbent testers -- jobs traditionally dominated by men -- from female employees who had greater plantwide seniority and who were becoming testers in increasing numbers. The court granted summary judgment for respondents on the ground that the charges had not been filed within the required period "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred," § 706(e) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e), and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Under § 703(h) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h), the operation of a seniority system having a disparate impact on men and women is not unlawful unless discriminatory intent is proved. E.g., Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U. S. 273, 456 U. S. 289; American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U. S. 63, 456 U. S. 65, 456 U. S. 69; Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63, 432 U. S. 82. It is not disputed that the seniority system at issue is facially nondiscriminatory (treats similarly situated employees alike) and is nondiscriminatorily applied. Its alleged invalidity rests on the claim that intentional discrimination produced the unfavorable change in petitioners' contractual seniority rights when respondents adopted the new system in 1979. The limitations period under § 706(e) therefore commenced at that point. Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U. S. 250; United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, 431 U. S. 553. This rule strikes a balance

Page 490 U. S. 901

between the interest in having valid claims vindicated and the interest in not adjudicating stale claims, which is heightened in this context by the special reliance interests that are protected by seniority systems. Pp. 490 U. S. 904-913.

827 F.2d 163, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 490 U. S. 913. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 490 U. S. 913. O'CONNOR, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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