Department of Public Safety of Alabama, et al. v. Rawlinson
Decided on June 27, 1977; 433 US 321

Woman challenges Alabama statute barring her employment
 in a correctional facility because of her physical size.


A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (gender), 14th Amendment: Equal Protection Clause, Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII

B. Legal Question Presented:

Do the height and weight requirements for employment as a prison guard in the Alabama Board of Corrections violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


A. Background:

After graduating college with a degree in correctional psychology, Dianne Rawlinson (appellee) applied for a position as a correctional counselor trainee with the Alabama Board of Corrections (appellants).  Her application was rejected due to her failure to meet the minimum 120-pound weight requirement and height minimum of 5 foot 2 inches established by an Alabama statute (amended as Regulation 204).

Appellee filed a complaint in the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, challenging the statutory height and weight requirements as violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protections Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The District Court found the state's regulation to be unconstitutional and violative of the Equal Protection Clause and Title VII.  The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Pamela S. Horowitz argued the cause for appellee.  With her on the brief was Morris S. Dees.
G. Daniel Evans, Assistant Attorney General of Alabama, argued the cause for appellants.  With him on the briefs were William J. Baxley, Attorney General, Walter S. Turner, and Eric A. Bowen, Assistant Attorneys General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General, Stanford N. Gruskin, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Warren J. Abbott, Assistant Attorney General, and Hadassa K. Kilbert, Deputy Attorney General for the State of California, by Slade Gorton, Attorney General of Washington, Morton M. Tytler, Senior Assistant Attorney General, and Anne L. Ellington, Assistant Attorney General, for the Washignton State Human Rights Commission; and by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Marjorie Mazen Smith, and Joel Gora for the American Civil Liberties Union.

J. Albert Woll, Laurence Gold, and Judith Lichtman filed a brief for the Women’s Legal Defense Fund et al. as amici curiae.
No amicus curiae briefs were filed on behalf of petitioner.

"The gist of the claim that the statutory height and weight requirements discriminate against women does not involve an assertion of purposeful discriminatory motive.  It is asserted, rather, that these facially neutral qualification standards work in fact disproportionately to exclude women from eligibility for employment by the Alabama Board of Corrections…

We turn, therefore, to the appellants' argument that they have rebutted the prima facie case of discrimination by showing that the height and weight requirements are job related. These requirements, they say, have a relationship to strength, a sufficient but unspecified amount of which is essential to effective job performance as a correctional counselor.  In the District Court, however, the appellants produced no evidence correlating the height and weight requirements with the requisite amount of strength thought essential to good job performance.

For the reasons we have discussed, the District Court was not in error in holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits application of the statutory height and weight requirements to Rawlinson and the class she represents.

Unlike the statutory height and weight requirements, Regulation 204 explicitly discriminates against women on the basis of their sex.  In defense of this overt discrimination, the appellants rely on 703 (e) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2 (e), which permits sex-based discrimination ‘in those certain instances where… sex …is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise...’

In the usual case, the argument that a particular job is too dangerous for women may appropriately be met by the rejoinder that it is the purpose of Title VII to allow the individual woman to make that choice for herself.  More is at stake in this case, however, than an individual woman's decision to weigh and accept the risks of employment in a 'contact' position in a maximum-security male prison.

The essence of a correctional counselor's job is to maintain prison security. A woman's relative ability to maintain order in a male, maximum-security, unclassified penitentiary of the type Alabama now runs could be directly reduced by her womanhood. There is a basis in fact for expecting that sex offenders who have criminally assaulted women in the past would be moved to do so again if access to women were established within the prison. There would also be a real risk that other inmates, deprived of a normal heterosexual environment, would assault women guards because they were women…The likelihood that inmates would assault a woman because she was a woman would pose a real threat not only to the victim of the assault but also to the basic control of the penitentiary and protection of its inmates and the other security personnel. The employee's very womanhood would thus directly undermine her capacity to provide the security that is the essence of a correctional counselor's responsibility.

There was substantial testimony from experts on both sides of this litigation that the use of women as guards in ‘contact’ positions under the existing conditions in Alabama maximum-security male penitentiaries would pose a substantial security problem, directly linked to the sex of the prison guard. On the basis of that evidence, we conclude that the District Court was in error in ruling that being male is not a bona fide occupational qualification for the job of correctional counselor in a ‘contact’ position in an Alabama male maximum-security penitentiary.
The judgment is accordingly affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.'
Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 2 Con
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Burger, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion, joined Rehnquist’s concurrence)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion, joined Rehnquist’s concurrence) 
  • Marshall, T. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Con (Joined minority opinion, joined Marshall’s dissent)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance in support of appellee; the US Supreme Court affirmed appellee's contention that the height and weight requirements violated Title VII, reversed the district court's ruling that being male is not a bona fide occupational qualification, and remanded the District Court’s decision in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.