The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace

The Griggs v. Duke Power Story

Robert Belton

On March 8, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., brought by thirteen African American employees who worked as common laborers and janitors at one of Duke Powers facilities. The decision, in plaintiffs favor, marked a profound and enduring challenge to the dominance of white males in the workplace. In this book, Robert Belton, who represented the plaintiffs for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and argued the case in the lower courts, gives a firsthand account of legal history in the making—and a behind-the-scenes look at the highly complex process of putting civil rights law to work.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eliminated much blatant discrimination, but after its enactment and before Griggs, businesses held the view that a commitment to equality required only eliminating policies and practices that were intentionally discriminator—the "disparate treatment" test.

“As one of the LDF’s key litigators in the Griggs case, Belton was uniquely qualified to write The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace. The book’s greatest strength is his ability to provide an ‘insider’s , first-person, behind-the-scenes history of the litigation campaign.’ Belton recovers the LDF’s internal operations, recounting the tactics its attorneys debated but did not pursue. He buttresses his personal memories with archival evidence and clear and thorough explanations of legal developments, capturing Griggs’s drama and contingency.

—Political Science Quarterly

“Belton brings readers into the heady days of first litigating under Title VII, a time when leading public interest organizations, private lawyers, government agencies, academics, and judges were all grappling with what ‘discrimination’ would mean under the new law. Belton has a rich trove of sources for his story, including LDF case files and documents that are not yet open to the public; interviews with key participants; papers of some of the judges and Supreme Court justices who participated in the major cases in the story; and, of course, his own memories.”

Michigan Law Review
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In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Supreme Court ruled that a "disparate impact" test could also apply—that the 1964 Civil Rights Act extended to practices with a discriminatory effect. In tracing the impact of the Griggs ruling on employment practices, this book documents the birth, maturation, death, and rebirth of the disparate impact theory, including its erosion by later Supreme Court decisions and its restoration by congressional action in the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Belton conducts us through this historic case from the original lawsuit to the Supreme Court decision in Griggs and beyond as he traces the post-Griggs developments in the lower courts, the Supreme Court, and Congress; he provides informed insights into both litigators' and judges' perspectives and decision-making. His work situates the case in its legal, social, and historical contexts and explores the relationship between public and private enforcement of the law, with a focus on the Legal Defense Funds litigation campaign against employment discrimination. A detailed examination of the development of legal principles under Title VII, this book tells the story of this seminal decision on equal employment law and offers an unprecedented close-up view of personal conviction, legal strategy, and historical forces combining to effect dramatic social change.

About the Author

Robert Belton (1935-2012), at the time of his death, was Professor Emeritus of Law at Vanderbilt University, where he had also been the University's first tenured African American law professor.

Stephen L. Wasby, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University at Albany - State University of New York, lives in Eastham, Mass.