You are on page 1of 4

Patrick Ghougassian Case Brief 2 Dr.


Case Title: Price Waterhouse V. Hopkins

Court: Supreme Court of the United States.

Date: Decided May 1, 1989.

Case facts: In the case at hand, the plaintiff is Ann Hopkins, a past employer of the firm Price Waterhouse. Ann Hopkins claims that Price Waterhouse discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, by denying her partnership for two years in a row (She was held for reconsideration during the first year of her proposition). So the plaintiff sued the firm under Federal Title VII. Ann Hopkins sued the firm at the Federal Court for the District of Columbia. Throughout the court, it was proven that Ann Hopkins was very skilled at her job, landing the firm a high commission with the Department of State (25$ million.) None of the other people considered for partnership that year had a record as impressive as hers.

On this basis alone that is, on the basis of her work Ann Hopkins clearly deserved to be awarded partnership. However, a mix of legitimate and illegitimate decisions also factored into Ann Hopkins fate for partnership. She was seen as smart, competent and a hard worker. However, she was also seen as harsh, impatient and in many ways difficult to work with. In a legal sense, this defense counts as a legitimate defense for her to be refused partnership. The legal problems begin with partners and staff members reacting negatively to her gender, and her gender role. It was proven that during her time at the firm, Ann Hopkins was constantly the target of distasteful comments about her being less feminine, and argued that sex stereotyping played a part in the firms decision of not granting her partnership. During the court trial, it was proven that both of these reasons the legitimate and illegitimate reasons played a role in Ann Hopkins fate for partnership. The Federal Court for the District of Columbia, as well as the Court of Appeals ruled in her favor. The courts argued that if Price Waterhouse could prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have made the same employment decision even with the lack of discrimination, then the firm would avoid its guilt. The courts found that Price Waterhouse was unable to carry that burden. The case moved to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Questions presented: Given that sex stereotyping [during an employment decision] is impermissible under Federal Title VII, can Price Waterhouse escape liability by proving that it would have taken the same decision even in the absence of discrimination?

If so, by what standards of proof does Price Waterhouse need to prove that?

Holding: Price Waterhouse could avoid liability if it proves by preponderance of the evidence that it would have taken the same decision over Ann Hopkins partnership bid even in the absence of discrimination. The court finds that Price Waterhouse failed to carry that heavy burden.

Reasoning: The Supreme Court agreed with the experts testimony that Ann Hopkins was indeed the target of sex stereotyping and discrimination. It was obvious that some of the partners decision on the fate of Hopkins partnership bid were indeed the product of discrimination, and that Price Waterhouse had done nothing to prevent or deal with these discriminatory comments. The courts disagrees with the lowers courts in the type of proof they demand of Price Waterhouse. The lower courts demanded Price Waterhouse to prove its innocence through means of clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same employment decision in the absence of sex stereotyping. The High court finds this erroneous, and demands Price Waterhouse to prove its innocence by preponderance of the evidence.

Concurring opinion: Justice White concurred, stating the previous case Mt. Healthy City School district board of education V. Doyle. In this case, a public employee who claims he was fired because of a free speech he made, needed to provide substantial evidence that he was fired because of the speech he made.

Justice OConnor concurred, stating that the burden of proof must be given to the employers.

Dissenting opinion: Justice Kennedy dissents. Kennedy claims that Federal Title VII has no independent course of action for sex stereotyping. He sees the use of Title VII in Ann Hopkins case as a means of rooting out sexist thoughts, instead of it being a means to prevent discrimination (and Justice Kennedy sees a difference between). Kennedy claims that the sexist comments made by Ann Hopkins partners were not intended for discrimination. Finally, Kennedy sees the Ann Hopkins failed to meet the requisite standard of proof, by failing to prove that the legitimate concerns over her attitude werent the reasons she was denied partnership.

Comments: The fact that all three courts involved didnt ponder the harmful facet of sex stereotyping is astonishing. It is a huge stepping stone for the personal liberties of people and it has great implications. Most notably, it has resonance for LGBT rights. What the courts affirmed is that a person has the choice to act however they want, and in a sense, to belong to whichever gender they want, and remain protected under constitutional and federal law. Ann Hopkins case can be used as a legal precedent in many of todays gay rights debates --- all of which carry underlying sinister messages of sex stereotyping.