Case Analysis – Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust

William F. Slater, III

Legal Environment of Business - LAW 529

University of Phoenix

Ms. Whitney Bell, J.D., LL.M.

May 14, 2003




Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust, 108 S. Ct. 2777 (1988).




Ms. Watson (plaintiff), who is black, filed a charge with the EEOC against her employer, Fort Worth Bank & Trust (defendant), stating that her employer had discriminated against her because using its subjective promotion practices, it had denied her a promotion four times, instead each time promoting a white male.  When she had exhausted all her administrative remedies, she filed suit in a Federal Court. After both the Federal Court and the Court of Appeals ruled against her, she petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, and it was granted.




Did the plaintiff produce sufficient evidence to prove that she was  discriminated against when she was denied a promotion four times under a subjective promotion process?






No.  And the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remanded for further proceedings that would be consistent with the opinion.




In this precedent decision, the Supreme Court reasoned for the first time, that under Title VII, while a company’s subjective promotion policies could indeed be subjected to disparate impact analysis, the burden of proof was sufficiently high enough, that the plaintiff had failed to produce conclusive evidence that demonstrated discrimination and discriminatory intent.  See Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 425 ; Dothard v. Rawlinson, 433 U.S. 321, 329 ; and Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 432 .





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Case Questions:


1.  What are the subjective promotion policies?


The promotion policies allowed managers who were acquainted with the candidates to interview them, rate them, subjectively decide who was best fit for promotion, and subsequently promote them.



2.  Does the Court apply disparate impact analysis or disparate treatment analysis to subjective promotion policies?


In the case of Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust, the Court applied disparate impact analysis, and stated that it did not believe that sufficient evidence had been presented to prove disparate impact.  It also and stated that to sufficiently challenge a subjective promotion system under Title VII, that a disparate treatment model must be applied.  Under such a case, the plaintiff would have to prove that the defendant had a discriminatory intent or motive.



3.  After the Watson case, what does a plaintiff have to prove to establish disparate impact discrimination?


The plaintiff would have to prove all of these:

·        an employer’s policies had a discriminatory effect on a group protected under Title VII

·        that a discriminatory action actually took place

·        substantial statistical evidence that will show the discriminatory practice in question has caused the exclusion of applicants for jobs or promotions because of their membership in one or more groups protected under Title VII.

·        “show that other tests or selection devices, without a similarly undesirable racial effect, would also server the employer’s legitimate interest in efficient and trustworthy workmanship” (Corley, Reed, Shedd,, and Morehead, 2002).