Corning Glass Works v. Brennan
Decided on June 3, 1974; 417 US 188


Company is sued for discriminating against female employees

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (Gender), 14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the new system for setting wage rates, resulting in a higher wage for employees hired before Jan. 20, 1969, when female employees were paid substantially less than male employees, violate the Equal Pay Act?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner, Corning Glass Works, operated two plants.  In both plants, all inspection work was performed by women.  In 1925, the company introduced automatic production equipment, which resulted in creating a night shift.  By state law, women were prohibited from working at night and the company had to hire male employees to fill the night shift.  The men received substantially higher wages than the female day shift workers.

Later, the law was amended to permit women to work at night.  In 1966, petitioner started opening night shift jobs to women and women became eligible to bid for the higher paid night inspection jobs as vacancies occurred.

In 1969, a new "job evaluation" system was established for setting wage rates. The new system abolished the separate base wages for day and night shift inspectors, and imposed a uniform base wage for inspectors that was higher than the previous wage rate for the night shift.  All inspectors hired after January 20, 1969, were to receive the same base wage, regardless of their gender or shift. The system further provided, however, for a higher "red circle" rate for employee night inspectors hired prior to that date, further perpetuating the previous differential in base pay between day and night inspectors.

Respondent Brennan, the Secretary of Labor brought two actions for back pay for female employees, and injunctive relief against petitioner, claiming that violations of the Equal Pay Act, 1963 had occurred at its Corning, New York (no. 73-29), and Wellsboro, Pennsylvania (no. 73-695), plants.

In No. 73-29, the District Court granted relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that Corning's practice violated the Act, while the District Court in No. 73-695 held that the Act had not been violated, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.  Both parties appealed to the US Supreme Court, certiorari was granted and the cases were consolidated.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
 (Respondent/Appellee & Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
 (Respondent/Appellee & Petitioner/Appellant)
Allan Abbot Tuttle argued the cause for petitioner in No. 73-695 and for respondent in No. 73-29.

With him on the brief were Solicitor General Bork, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Sylvia S. Ellison, and Helen W. Judd.
Scott F. Zimmerman argued the cause for petitioner in No. 73-29 and for respondent in No. 73-695.

With him on the briefs was Walter P. DeForest III.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee & Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee & Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee & Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee & Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae were filed in both cases by Milton Smith, Gerard C. Smetana, Lawrence D. Ehrlich, and Jerry Kronenberg for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Melvin L. Wulf for the American Civil Liberties Union.
No amici curiae briefs were filed.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The Equal Pay Act is broadly remedial, and it should be construed and applied so as to fulfill the underlying purposes which Congress sought to achieve. If, as the Secretary proved, the work performed by women on the day shift was equal to that performed by men on the night shift, the company became obligated to pay the women the same base wage as their male counterparts on the effective date of the Act. To permit the company to escape that obligation by agreeing to allow some women to work on the night shift at a higher rate of pay as vacancies occurred would frustrate, not serve, Congress' ends.

We agree it is clear from the record that had the company equalized the base-wage rates of male and female inspectors on the effective date of the Act, as the law required, the day inspectors in 1969 would have been entitled to the same higher 'red circle' rate the company provided for night inspectors. We therefore conclude that on the facts of this case, the company's continued discrimination in base wages between night and day workers, though phrased in terms of a neutral factor other than sex, nevertheless operated to perpetuate the effects of the company's prior illegal practice of paying women less than men for equal work.

The judgment in No. 73-29 is affirmed. The judgment in No. 73-695 is reversed and the case remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 3 Con

  • Marshall, T.  Pro (Wrote the majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined the majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined the majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined the majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined the majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Wrote a dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined Burger's dissent)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined Burger's dissent)
  • Stewart, J. Took no part in the decision making process of the case
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus curiae, urging reversal in no. 73-695 and affirmance in no. 73-29; the US Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal's judgment in case no. 73-29 and reversed their judgment in case no. 73-695, in a 6-3 vote, giving ACLU an apparent win.