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U, United Steelworkers of America v. Weber,

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023

United Steelworkers of America v. Weber,

443 U.S. 193 (1979), argued 28 Mar. 1979, decided 27 June 1979 by vote of 5 to 2; Brennan for the Court, Burger and Rehnquist in dissent, Powell and Stevens not participating. Despite earlier opportunities, Weber was the first case in (p. 1039) which the Supreme Court specifically addressed *affirmative action in employment.

The master collective bargaining agreement for the Kaiser Aluminum Company had been adapted from a settlement of employment discrimination claims in the steel industry. Craft hiring goals for blacks were set at each Kaiser plant equal to the percentage of blacks in the respective local labor forces. On the job training programs were established for unskilled production workers, both black and white. Admission to the programs was based on seniority, with 50 percent of the openings in these newly created in-plant training jobs available for whites.

Weber, an unskilled white employee at the Kaiser plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, had more service than some of the black employees selected for the program but less than any of the successful white applicants. He sued the company and the union, alleging that the program’s racial classification for admission violated Title VII of the *Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Acknowledging that Weber’s literal interpretation of the act was not without force, Justice William J. *Brennan, for the majority, emphasized the significance of the fact that the program was voluntarily adopted by private parties to eliminate traditional patterns of racial *segregation. He noted that judicial findings of exclusion from crafts on racial grounds are so numerous as to make such exclusion a proper subject for judicial notice.

The court rejected Weber’s argument that Title VII specifically prohibited any grant of preferential treatment to racial minorities. It held that Title VII’s prohibitions against racial discrimination do not condemn all private, voluntary, race-conscious affirmative action plans.

The Court declined to define in detail the line of demarcation between permissible and impermissible affirmative action plans. But this plan did not unnecessarily trammel the interests of white employees, did not require the discharge of whites to make room for blacks, and did not permanently bar the advancement of white employees. The plan was temporary, and it was not intended to maintain racial balance but simply to eliminate a manifest racial imbalance. Therefore, it fell within the area of discretion left by Title VII to the private sector voluntarily to adopt affirmative action plans designed to eliminate conspicuous racial imbalance in traditionally segregated job categories.

See also employment discrimination; labor; race and racism.

James E. Jones, Jr.