Washington v. Davis

426 U.S. 229 (1976)


Respondents, Davis (P), filed a motion seeking a declaration that the test administered to those applying to become police officers is 'unlawfully discriminatory, and violative of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. . . .' Washington (D and the federal parties also filed motions for summary judgment with respect to the recruiting aspects of the case, asserting that Ps were entitled to relief on neither constitutional nor statutory grounds. The District Court denied Ps’ motions. A police recruit was required to satisfy certain physical and character standards, to be a high school graduate or its equivalent, and to receive a grade of at least 40 out of 80 on 'Test 21.' This test was 'designed to test verbal ability, vocabulary, reading and comprehension.' Ps’ only claim was that Test 21 bore no relationship to job performance and 'has a highly discriminatory impact in screening out black candidates.' Ps’ presented the following evidence: (a) The number of black police officers, while substantial, is not proportionate to the population mix of the city. (b) A higher percentage of blacks fail the test than whites. (c) The test has not been validated to establish its reliability for measuring subsequent job performance. This was deemed sufficient to shift the burden of proof to the Ds. The District Court ultimately concluded that 'the proof is wholly lacking that a police officer qualifies on the color of his skin, rather than ability,' and that the Department 'should not be required on this showing to lower standards or to abandon efforts to achieve excellence.' The Court of Appeals held that the statutory standards were to govern the due process question tendered. The lack of discriminatory intent in designing and administering Test 21 was irrelevant; the critical fact was, rather, that a far greater proportion of blacks -- four times as many -- failed the test than did whites. The Court of Appeals, over a dissent, accordingly reversed the judgment of the District Court and directed that Ps' motion for partial summary judgment be granted.