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Height and weight restriction as gender discrimination


Dothard v. Rawlinson 433 U.S. 321 (1977)

After her application for employment as an Alabama prison guard was rejected because the applicant, Rawlinson, failed to meet the minimum 120-pound weight, 5-foot-2-inch height requirement of an Alabama statute, Rawlinson sued. She challenged the statutory height and weight requirements and a regulation establishing gender criteria for assigning prison guards to "contact" positions (those requiring close physical proximity to inmates) as violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court found gender discrimination.

Stewart, J.

At the time she applied for a position as a correctional counselor trainee, Rawlinson was a 22-year-old college graduate whose major course of study had been correctional psychology. She was refused employment because she failed to meet the minimum 120-pound weight requirement established by an Alabama statute. The statute stated that the applicant shall not be less than five feet two inches nor more than six feet ten inches in height, shall weigh not less than 120 pounds nor more than 300 pounds. Variances could be granted upon a showing of good cause, but none had ever been applied for by the Board and the Board did not apprise applicants of the waiver possibility. While this suit was pending the Board adopted

Administrative Regulation

204 establishing gender criteria for assigning correctional counselors to maximum-security institutions for"contact positions." Rawlinson amended her complaint by adding a challenge to Regulation 204 as violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Like most correctional facilities in the U.S., Alabama's prisons are segregated on the basis of gender. Inmate living quarters are for the most part large dormitories, with communal showers and toilets that are open to the dorms and hallways. Two of the facilities carry on extensive farming operations, making necessary a large number of strip searches for contraband when prisoners re-enter the prison buildings. A prison guard's primary duty within these institutions is to maintain security and control the inmates by continually supervising and observing their activities. At the time this litigation was in the district court, women applicants could under Regulation 204 compete equally with men for only about 25% of the correctional counselor jobs available in the Alabama prison system because of the gender and "contact" restrictions. In considering the effect of the minimum height and weight standards on this disparity in rate of hiring between genders, the district court found that when the height and weight restrictions are combined, Alabama's statutory standards would exclude 41.13% of the female population while excluding less than 1% of the male population. In enacting Title VII, Congress required "the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification." Griggs v. Duke Power Co. The District Court found the minimum height and weight requirements constitute the sort of arbitrary barrier to equal employment opportunity that Title VII forbids. Alabama asserts that the district court erred both in finding the standards discriminate against women, and in its refusal to find that, even if they do, these standards are justified as"job related."This claim 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 to Alabama's 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, they failed to offer evidence of any kind in specific justification of the statutory standards. If the job-related quality that the Board identifies is bona fide, their purpose could be achieved by adopting and validating a test for applicants that measures strength directly. But nothing in the present record even approaches such a measurement. The district court was not in error in holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits application of the statutory height and weight requirements to Rawlinson and the class she represents.

AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

Case Questions

1. What purpose did the height and weight requirement serve? Do you think it was made to intentionally discriminate against women?

2. How could management have avoided this outcome?

3. In your view, should women's access to male prisoners be limited as described here? Why or why not?

Solution Preview

1. The height and weight requirement were likely established with consideration for the ability to handle prisoners who may get out of hand or physically disruptive. This requirement was determined as the minimum height and weight a guard could possess, while being able to physically control an inmate who has become unruly. It was not likely the requirement was designed intentionally to discriminate against women, but ...

Solution Summary

The height and weight restriction as gender discrimination are examined.