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How Courts as Employers Measure Up in Enforcing EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Laws - A Look at Selected Cases

NCJ Number
State Court Journal Volume: 5 Issue: 4 Dated: (Fall 1981) Pages: 14-17
D F Halbach
Date Published
4 pages
Four cases dealing with liability or immunity of judges and court administrators in discrimination suits are reviewed in this investigation of courts' compliance with equal employment opportunity (EEO) requirements.
A scarcity of EEO programs are in place in State and local courts, and minorities and women continue to be underrepresented as court employees. Since the language and legislative history of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1974 clearly includes State courts, the failure to comply cannot be justified by a lack of awareness of the existence of EEO. Two other reasons given for failure to comply are judicial immunity from prosecution for failure to implement EEO programs and the separation of powers doctrine which prohibits forced interference with the operations of the judicial branch. Four cases have tested these reasons. The most significant was Underwood v. New York, in which an action was filed by black and Hispanic job applicants who alleged that the screening examination was not job-related and effectively screened out blacks and Hispanics. The other cases included Shore v. Howard (two former Texas Probation Department employees sued for equitable relief), a wrongful discharge action against the administrator and judge of a local district court in Michigan, and Atcherson v. Siebenmann (a probation officer maintained that conduct leading to dismissal was protected by the first and 14th amendments). The decisions in these cases clearly indicate that EEO laws are applicable to courts, that judicial immunity will not project judges and courts in their roles as employers, and that the separation of powers doctrine does not apply to Federal-State and Federal-local relations.