Employers and Disparate Impact in Washington, D.C.

The United States and Washington, D.C. have laws to protect you from intentional discrimination based on your sex, race, color, national origin, religion, and other protected characteristics. As businesses create policies that appear neutral on the surface, they may unintentionally discriminate against a federally protected group of people.

This is called disparate impact, and the Supreme Court of the United States has consistently ruled that disparate impact is still discrimination, even if the discrimination is unintentional.

If you have been discriminated against in Washington, D.C. –whether intentionally or by disparate impact –contact the civil rights attorneys at S.L. England, PLLC.


In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Supreme Court considered if Duke Power Company’s policy of requiring employees to have a high school diploma and pass aptitude tests to qualify for all but the lowest-paying positions was discriminatory. Willie Griggs claimed that Duke Power Company’s requirements discriminated against African Americans and violated their protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The Supreme Court ruled that Duke Power Company’s policy was discriminatory since having a high school diploma or passing the aptitude tests did not accurately measure a potential employee’s ability to successfully learn or perform the job, and this disproportionately prevented African Americans from being hired or promoted within the company.


Proving disparate impact is not always cut-and-dried based on the racial disparity in different job classes at the same employer.

Wards Cove Packing Company primarily hired nonwhite employees to work in unskilled positions. A group of nonwhite workers claimed the company had discriminatory hiring practices because more nonwhite employees worked in the unskilled positions, while more white employees worked in the skilled positions.

The Supreme Court ruled that evidence of racial disparity among different job classes does not alone prove that the employer has discriminatory practices. This disproportion may reflect the racial differences that exist in the job market. 

Justice Byron R. White stated in his Opinion for the court that “the proper comparison is generally between the racial composition of the at-issue jobs and the racial composition of the qualified population in the relevant labor market.” The Plaintiff must prove to the court that the differences exist because of the employer’s hiring practices, not because of the labor market.

Even if an employer claims that they do not have discriminatory practices and any disproportion is a reflection of the job market, the Plaintiff can still prove that disparate impact exists by showing the Court that other employment policies would be as effective as those currently in place but would have fewer negative impacts on protected classes of people.


Intentional or unintentional employment discrimination can have long-lasting effects on your career and your life. At S.L. England, PLLC, our attorneys fight to protect your civil rights so that you can perform your job free from discrimination. If an employer has discriminated against you in Virginia or Washington, D.C., call us today at (202) 572-1020 or contact us online.

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