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"Reverse" Cases



The following are some of the significant cases in this area. They are offered as a start to understanding the issues, and are not intended as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from DOI's Solicitor's Office or private counsel. These summaries are intended neither as a legal analysis regarding specific matters, nor as a complete review of the topic.

  1. McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., 427 U.S. 273, 96 S.Ct. 2574 (1976). Two White employees and one Black employee were charged with stealing property from their employer. The two White employees were fired while the Black employee was retained. In the first big reverse discrimination case, the Court decided that Title VII is not limited to discrimination against minority persons, but includes discriminatory actions against majority persons as well.
  1. Middletown v. City of Flint, 92 F.3d 396. (6th Cir. 1996), cert. denied 117 S.Ct. 1552 (1997). Challenge by White police officers passed over for promotions because of voluntary affirmative action plan involving a 50% set aside of promotions to Sergeant for racial minorities. Court found plan to be an "unnecessarily drastic remedy."
  1. Police Association of New Orleans v. City of New Orleans, 100 F.3d 1159 (5th Cir. 1996). City's race conscious promotions violated Equal Protection Clause because they were not narrowly tailored.
  1. Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1033 (1996). Strikes down the race-conscious admissions program of the University of Texas Law School. The school used lower minimum criteria for African American and Mexican American candidates than for other candidates. The Court held that obtaining a racially diverse student body is not a compelling interest under the 14th Amendment.
  1. Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150 (D.C. Cir. 1993). D.C. Circuit interpreted McDonnell Douglas (described in our "Civil Rights Cases" category in list at left) to require an additional showing for White plaintiffs in reverse discrimination cases over and above what would be required by minority plaintiffs. The court held that, because racial discrimination against White persons is so rare, in order to establish the necessary inference of discrimination, White plaintiffs must prove "background circumstances" that "support the suspicion that the defendant is that unusual employer who discriminates against the majority." This can be done by showing that plaintiff was better qualified than the minority applicant whom the employer selected.
  1. Lucas v. Dole, 835 F.2d 532 (4th cir. 1987). The Fourth Circuit refused to adopt the D.C. Circuit's "background circumstances" requirement and instead applied McDonnell Douglas test in the same way to White and Black plaintiff. White plaintiff satisfied her burden in this case where she showed that she was more qualified than the selected minority applicant, that the interviewing process was too subjective, that the minority applicant had received irregular acts of favoritism, and that other employees believed that race was a factor.
  1. Schafer v. Board of Public Education, 903 F.2d 243 (3d Cir. 1990). Reverse sexual discrimination case. The court held that male teacher stated a claim for discrimination where he was not allowed to take a year of paternity leave, while female teachers were allowed to take similar amount of maternity leave. Distinctions between men and women can be made with respect to physical disabilities related to pregnancy or the delivery of a child, but not with respect to child rearing.