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Griggs v. Duke Power Company Ethical Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Employment
Wordcount: 1985 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Ethics in Assessment Paper

In 1970, Griggs v. Duke Power Company in North Carolina appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the company’s alleged civil rights violation. This case established a legal precedent for a  lawsuit which founded ‘disparate impact’. The Supreme Court found that Duke had imposed a disparate-impact on their African American employees. Disparate impact is when a situation occurs which causes adverse effects such as a person applies for employment mainly with people who belong to certain racial or minority group (Britannica, 2010). A decision was found that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act mandated employers to hire and promote people based on their ability to perform their assigned position; not their credentials (Civil Rights Act, n.d.). In this case, Willie Griggs, an African American at the Duke Power Company, and several other employees challenged his employer, Duke Power Company, as violating the Title VII Civil Rights Act.

This paper will discuss the background of the Griggs v. Duke Power Company and provide an analysis of the biases that are related to the assessments in the case. In addition, the ethical implication for diverse populations in relation to the case and role of norming in creating bias will be reviewed.

Background and Legal Decision Implications

 During the 60’s, racial discrimination was being fought by many civil rights activists. President, John F. Kennedy understood its importance to eliminate discrimination and heavily supported the movement. When he was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice President, assisted in the struggle and presented the issue to Congress in ‘64. The Civil Rights Act powered the equal rights movement to eradicate racial discrimination and prejudice used in employment practices. This also encompassed, promotions, employees’ termination rights, and for movement within a business or organization. To address its continuance, amendments were made to update current societal issues relating to age discrimination, religious affiliation, gender, whistleblowing, harassment, retaliation and methods of testing (Find Us Law, 1971).   

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Initially, the district court found Duke did not violate anyone’s civil rights.  The Supreme Court was presented the case in December 1970. The case claimed that African Americans were subjected to testing requirements that failed to measure their capability to perform specific job obligations in the workplace. Rather, the tests were disguised to continue with discrimination at the Duke Power Company (Department of Justice, 2014). In addition, Duke’s practice perpetuated the unemployment of increasing numbers of African American merging into the workplace with a substandard education provided by the segregated Carolinas. The issue with the Supreme Court was, ‘when employment requirements have a disparate impact on minorities, but no discriminatory intent, can those requirements violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Griggs v. Duke.., n.d., p. 1, para. 4). The Supreme Court found the Duke Power Company was in violation of employment practices. Unanimously, it determined the tests provided by the Duke Power Company, ‘were artificial and unnecessary and that the requirements for transfer had a disparate impact on blacks Griggs v. Duke…, n.d., p. 1 para.. 4). Also, the court ruled that even, if the reason they used the requirements had nothing to do with racial discrimination, they were still discriminatory and illegal. According to the Department of Justice (2014), the courts found that testing for employment could be utilized but must be in relation to specific job performance.

Analysis of Bias Related to Assessments of the Case

 When analyzing the biases related to the assessments in Griggs v. Duke, there were several apparent issues. Some of the issues were: the requirement for passing a standardized IQ test, requiring a high school diploma, and complete testing for employment to obtain internal position transfers. Also, it was noted there were no standards showing a significant change in positive job performance. In addition, Duke reflected that by utilizing standards; test and high school diploma, its intent was to disqualify African Americans in lieu of Caucasians who also applied for employment. Equally important was the issue that warranted positions were filled by Caucasian employees as a traditional practice of received preferential treatment and limiting African Americans to the labor department (Civil Rights Act, Sec. 703).

Both parties had taken strong positions with the district courts on the Title VII Civil Rights Acts issue. The plaintiff claimed the Duke Power Company violation revealed unethical practices they incorporated as requirements for employment. As a condition of employment, Duke’s practice required employees to have a high school diploma or to pass an intelligent IQ test. This consisted of taking two separate high school aptitude tests and obtaining a certain score. Practicing this method, impacted the African American community disparately when they applied for employment.

 The district court had given little deliberation to the African Americans employed at Duke. They found Duke in favor when they removed discrimination practices in an effort to show concern and ethics. Unfortunately, this was common practice with companies during this time to maneuver around the Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964. When later reviewed, the Act later identified blatant racial discrimination against African Americans in Griggs v. Duke Power Company (Civil Rights Act, 1971). This case influenced the outcome of racial discrimination in companies’ workforce. Title VII addressed racial discrimination that was banned by company policies or test forced onto minority employees to maintain their employment or to move to other areas. Disparate impact changed the methods of employment for minorities in the workplace. It removed challenges and barriers of prejudice in the employment arena based on race or ethnicity.

Ethical Implications for Diverse Populations

 There are several ethical implications that are reflected in a diverse population that bared a sense of overt discrimination. Griggs v. Duke Power Company drew attention to the court proceedings that addressed this transparency covering biased education and testing, discriminatory treatment in the workforce and the impact of equality-like policies. This case required a high school diploma and an aptitude test which limited many African Americans at Duke. Additionally, it prevented African American employees from advancing from the labor force to other ‘white’ employed areas in the business. The Court of Appeals stated on record that
“whites register far better on the Company’s alternative requirements’ than Negroes” (Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971). This statement connected to the ethical implications dealing with race and intelligence. General intelligence demonstrates the basic premise that it has the capability to articulate itself impartially when taking tests. Since the employees were African American in a racial-based state, they were perceived as inferior in intelligence when bused to their decisively segregated schools. Title VII Civil Rights Act (Civil Rights Act, n.d.), prohibits blatant discrimination and pretentious fairness in employment practices. This was found in the court rulings to eradicate barriers and challenges of employment simply due to race. The Supreme Court viewed disparate impact as an effective method to change employment opportunities (Department of Justice, 2014). Disparate impact also encompasses discrimination in the workplace due to language and cultural differences.

Role of Norming in Creating Bias

 According to Cohen & Swerdlik (2018, p. 126), ‘race norming is a controversial practice of norming on the basis of race or ethnic background’. Race norming was employed by private businesses and governmental activities which resulted in creating biased methods to obtain varying cutoff scores to hire cultural groups. In this instance, participants in one group have to get one set of scores to be hired, while another cultural group received another score. Implementing race norming tests in segregated communities, justified and maintain the separation according to their established norms. This practice was prohibited in 1991 by the Civil Rights Act.

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The barriers in Griggs v. Duke Power Company were complicated as they covered discrimination in the workplace, perpetuated a racial stereotype and challenged a race’s intellect. To combat race norming, the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (n.d.), Section 9: Assessment, presents guidelines for 9.05: Assessments in Test Construction, and  9.09: Test Scoring and Interpretation Services. These sections ensure appropriate psychometric procedures and standards are followed and maintained. Griggs’ decision to pursue a lawsuit against Duke Power Company began a revolution to establish and protect the rights of all minorities; no exceptions.


 Willie Griggs was an African American hard-working man. A man with high integrity and deep-rooted values who truly understood civil rights in time of segregated. His strength led himself and fellow co-workers into a world of legal jargon and deeply into the definition of the word ‘discrimination’. Griggs v. Duke Power Company held a business accountable for unethical employment practices towards the treatment of African Americans.

After lower court appeals and multiple decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Duke Power Company violated the Title VII Civil Rights Act. It was finally ruled that the African Americans’ experienced a disparate impact from their employer regarding testing and position movement. When tried, Griggs v. Duke Power Company set precedence for a  lawsuit which founded ‘disparate-impact’ against the African Americans. In addition, the court determined that ‘testing or measuring procedures were acceptable; however, ‘it does proscribe giving controlling force unless they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance’ (Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 525 (1971).


  • American Psychological Association. Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 – CRA – Title VII – Equal Employment Opportunities – 42 US Code Chapter 21. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://finduslaw.com/civil-rights-act-1964-cra-title-vii-equal-employment-opportunities-42-us-code-chapter-21
  • Department of Justice. (2014). Overview of Title VI of Civil Rights. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. (2018). Griggs v. Duke Power Co. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Griggs-v-Duke-Power-Co
  • Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/constitutional-law/constitutional-law-keyed-to-brest/race-and-the-equal-protection-clause/griggs-v-duke-power-co/
  • Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/401/424/


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