The case of Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, 476 U.S. 267 (1986), is a case about whether race should be a factor in determining who should be let go in the event of a layoff. This case came together because the Jackson Board of Education agreed to add a clause that would protect minority employees in the event of a layoff to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The question before the court is does this violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and If so, who should be protected the minority teachers or the nonminority teachers with more seniority?
In 1969, the NAACP complained to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission that the Jackson Board of Education “had engaged in various discriminatory practices, including racial discrimination in the hiring of teachers.” The Michigan Civil Rights Commission determined that the allegations in the complaint were justified, and negotiated an adjustment order where the Board agreed to “take affirmative steps to recruit, hire and promote minority group teachers and counselors as positions became available.”
In the years of 1970-1971, a study was made of the representation of minorities on the faculty of the Jackson public schools. A comparison was made of the percentage of minority teachers to the percentage of minority students in the district. Nearly 16% of the student body was made up of minorities, whereas minorities represented only 8.3-8.5% of the faculty. The collective bargaining agreement in effect at that time, mandated that straight seniority would govern (last hired, first fired) in the event of layoffs.
In the spring of 1972, contract negotiations began. The climate for negotiates was influenced by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission adjustment ordered by a January 1972 survey of all teachers concerning the district’s layoff policy. Ninety-six percent “expressed a preference for the straight seniority system and opposed a system that would freeze minority layoffs. There also had been a boiling over of racial tension, with resultant violence at the Jackson High School, in February of that year. The negotiation resulted in a tentative agreement which included protective provisions against minority layoffs. Following a short strike in the fall of 1972, the contract was ratified for the 1972-1973 school year. Article XII, the challenged provision, was included in that agreement.
The goal of the remedial plan, expressed in article XII (D) (1), was “to have at least the same percentage of minority racial representation on each individual staff as (was) represented by the student population of the Jackson Public Schools.” Article XII (B) (1) sought to preserve that goal by providing protection against layoffs to minorities. “At no time will there be a greater percentage of minority personnel laid off than the current percentage of minority personnel employed at the time of the layoff.” The contract...