Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69; 104 S. Ct. 2299; 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984)

Facts—Petitioner, a female lawyer, was employed in 1972 as an associate in a large law firm in Atlanta. Respondent law firm was a general partnership and in 1980 consisted of fifty partners and approximately fifty lawyers employed as associates. Hishon alleged that her initial decision to join the firm was based on the possibility of ultimately becoming a partner “as a matter of course” after five or six years for associates who receive satisfactory evaluations. In May 1978 the firm considered and rejected Hishon for admission to partnership. She filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she was discriminated against because of her sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court dismissed the complaint, and a U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

Question—Did the respondent law firm deny petitioner a partnership on grounds of sex and did respondent’s promise to consider her on a “fair and equal basis” create a binding employment contract?


ReasonsC.J. Burger (9–0). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines an unlawful practice for an employer to fail, refuse to hire, or discharge an individual or discriminate against an individual, because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Petitioner alleges that the law firm is an employer. “A benefit that is part and parcel of the employment relationship may not be doled out in a discriminatory fashion. . . .” The benefit of partnership consideration “was allegedly linked directly with an associate’s status as an employee, and this linkage was far more than coincidental. ” Once a contractual employment relationship is established, the provisions of Title VII attach, forbidding unlawful discrimination as to the “terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,” which clearly include “benefits that are part of the employment contract.” The benefit a plaintiff is denied need not be employment “to fall within Title VII’s protection; it need only be a term, condition, or privilege of employment.” The statute or its legislative history does not support an exemption of partnership decisions from scrutiny. Respondent has not shown that “the application of Title VII in this case would infringe its constitutional rights of expression or association.”

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