Ann Hopkins Case Analysis Essay, Research Paper
Ann Hopkins worked as a senior manager for the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse for four
years, Hopkins became a candidate for partnership in 1984. After being denied partnership, she filed suit against Price Waterhouse charging that the firm had discriminated against her on the basis of sex by allowing gender stereotypes to heavily influence the firm’s employment practices.
During her employment with Price Waterhouse, Hopkins proved herself a hard-working, dedicated employee. In the year of her proposal for partnership, for example, Hopkins generated more business and billed more hours than any other candidate. She was also heavily praised by her supervisors for maintaining excellent relations with her clients as well as for landing a highly coveted $25 million contract with the Department of State that, according to Price Waterhouse, was a “leading credential” for the firm in competing for other government contracts. Nevertheless, Hopkins’ bid for partnership was denied by the firm.
The primary reason stated by the firm for Hopkins’ rejection was her perceived lack of “interpersonal skills” and her alleged mistreatment of staff. Indeed, most of the negative comments made about Hopkins during the evaluation period had to do with her deficient social graces and her aggressive, overbearing style. Many of the negative comments made about Hopkins by the partners, however, reflect their bias against her not as a colleague but as a woman. One partner criticized Hopkins for acting too “macho” while another claimed that she “overcompensated for being a woman.” Yet another partner suggested that Hopkins “take a course at charm school,” and the firm’s Policy Board, after informing Hopkins of her rejection, recommended that she “walk more femininity, talk more femininity, dress more femininity, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.”
In light of these comments, the United States Supreme Court found that Price Waterhouse did discriminate against Ann Hopkins by permitting gender stereotypes to play a significant role in its decision to reject her candidacy for partnership. The Court further held that when a plaintiff in a federal anti-discrimination suit “proves that her gender played a motivating part in an employment decision, the defendant may avoid a finding of liability only by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision even if it had not taken the plaintiff’s gender into account.” In other words, when a plaintiff effectively shows that gender-bias did influence a particular employment decision, the defendant may then escape a finding of liability by demonstrating that it would have made the same decision regardless of the plaintiff’s gender. Thus, in cases where an employment decision is made for both legitimate and discriminatory reasons, the defendant may avoid liability by showing that it would have made the same decision in the absence of the discriminatory factor.
The Court’s holding in the Price Waterhouse case reflects the conventional ‘equality approach’ to sex discrimination cases. Under this approach, courts are required to determine whether an allegedly discriminatory employer would have made the same decision about a female employee had her gender not been taken into account. In order to find that unlawful discrimination has
occurred, therefore, a court must decide that a woman would have received different treatment had she been a man of similar qualifications and skills.
The equality approach, however, is not “forceful enough to withstand obstacles thrown up by men who will not promote women considered either ‘too feminine’ or ‘too masculine’ because [it] does not recognize that issues other than actual competence may affect employment decisions.” By asking only whether a woman is ’similarly situated’ to her male counterparts, the equality approach ignores the fact that women and men are judged according to different social standards, and that those standards tend to harm working women.
Gender stereotypes, to the extent that they dictate the proper roles and traits of men and women, as well as the characteristics associated with excellence on the job, greatly disadvantage women. A recent study of workplace psychology asked workers to classify specific character traits according to gender and then to rank those traits by their relative contribution to successful
job performance. The study found that, in general, men were perceived as independent, objective, and assertive while women were seen as emotional, talkative, friendly, and neat. Not surprisingly, the traditionally ‘male’ characteristics also tended to far outrank the traits commonly associated with stereotypically ‘female’ behavior in terms of their perceived relation to excellence on
When the very characteristics associated with success in the workplace are the antithesis of norms of proper feminine behavior, working women invariably find themselves caught in an impossible double bind. In order for women to move up in the workplace, they must adopt traditionally ‘masculine’ forms of behavior. However, women who do not conform to stereotypical notions of womanhood and who are perceived as ‘too masculine’ run the risk of being regarded by their colleagues as deviants.
Although Ann Hopkins’ position required that she behave in an ‘unfeminine’ fashion (i.e., giving orders, doing business, taking charge, etc.), she was denied partnership precisely because she was not feminine enough. Ann Hopkins’ aggressive, self-confident leadership style enabled her to achieve a high level of success and praise from her supervisors at Price Waterhouse. The firm, however, denied her candidacy for partnership not because she lacked the necessary qualifications but because she failed to conform to stereotypical expectations of proper ‘feminine’ behavior. Hopkins was not judged by the partners at Price Waterhouse for her skills and qualifications as an employee but for her status as a woman. In this sense, Hopkins was held up against standards that no man with her qualifications would have been forced to satisfy, or that never
would have been an issue due to his gender.
Ann Hopkins won her case against Price Waterhouse because she possessed all of the character traits typically associated with masculinity and successful job performance and because she proved substantially ’similar’ to her male counterparts in the eyes of the Court. Indeed, not only was Hopkins as diligent and aggressive as the male candidates for partnership, she also succeeded
in generating a greater share of business for the firm. One must consider, however, whether the outcome of the case would have been substantially different had Ann Hopkins been perceived by Price Waterhouse as ‘too feminine.’ In such a case, the equality approach would be significantly less effective because, in terms of her qualifications and job skills (i.e., her lack of independence, assertiveness, etc.), Hopkins could no longer be deemed substantially ’similar’ to her male counterparts.
The underlying assumption of the equality approach therefore, is that women deserve equal treatment only to the extent that they are ’similar’ to men. To the extent that women are different from men, however, they are no longer entitled to the same rights and protections. The equality approach thus offers an effective means of protection for women like Ann Hopkins who fit
nicely into the structure of the workplace and who are similar to men, while for women who are unlike men and do not conform to the structure of the workplace, it does not.
The central weakness of the equality approach lies in its reliance on male-based ‘objective’ standards. The comparative standard of the equality approach is rooted in the belief that the male perspective is central and ‘universal’ while the female perspective is merely tangential. Women are thereby defined in terms of their relative similarity to men while “the partiality of this dominant (i.e., male) viewpoint is obscured, largely because it is unstated and presumed. The minority view, in contrast, is regarded as being partial and particular, rather than objective and universal.”
By adopting the male standard as the ‘objective’ and ‘universal’ one, the equality approach reinforces women’s inferior status in the workplace. The implicit male bias of the comparative standard reflects the very attitudes discrimination law exists to undermine: that the image of success, of potency, of what it means to do a job is the image of a man. In its failure to
recognize the different social standards for men and women, the equality approach fails to adequately address the root causes of women’s inequality in society and on the job.
The Dominance Approach: Sexual Harassment and the Subordination of Working Women
One alternative approach to sex discrimination law, the dominance approach, has attempted to address women’s relative lack of power within the male-defined structure of the workplace. Most widely used in cases of sexual harassment, which has been found by the courts to be a form of gender discrimination actionable under federal anti-discrimination laws, the dominance
approach attempts to recognize the inherent disadvantage women face when judged according to male standards and to confront the way in which sexual harassment reinforces women’s inferior status in the workplace. Where this approach has been applied by the courts, however, the results have been less than satisfying. In defining the proper standard of review for sexual harassment cases, the courts have tended to evoke outmoded stereotypes regarding women’s sexuality and to judge female plaintiffs according to male-defined standards.
The Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse dealt with a woman who did not conform to traditional feminine norms. Ann Hopkins was a successful senior manager and partner candidate at Price Waterhouse (”PW”). The evidence at trial indicated that some partners involved in assessing the proposal that Hopkins be made a partner reacted negatively to her
personality because she was a woman. Justice Brennan’s opinion, joined by Justices Marshall, Blackmun and Stevens, summarized the evidence:
One partner described her as “macho”; another suggested that she “overcompensated for being a woman”; a third advised her to take “a course at charm school.” Several partners criticized her use of profanity; in response, one partner suggested that those partners objected to her swearing only “because it’s a lady using foul language.”Another supporter explained that Hopkins “ha[d] matured from a tough-talking somewhat masculine hard-nosed mgr to an authoritative, formidable, but much more appealing lady ptr candidate.” But . . . the man who . . . bore responsibility for explaining to Hopkins the reasons for the Policy Board’s decision to place her candidacy on hold . . . delivered the coup de grace: in order to improve her chances for partnership, [he] advised, Hopkins should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.”
PW tabled the issue of Hopkin’s partnership in 1982 and refused to reconsider her in 1983. Hopkins filed a Title VII action, and expert testimony was introduced at trial opining that sex stereotyping had influenced the partnership selection process. Hopkins prevailed at trial and on appeal.
Although the issue before the Supreme Court on PW’s petition for certiorari was burden allocation in mixed-motive cases under Title VII, a plurality of Justices (Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, and O’Connor in a separate concurrence) characterized PW’s error as impermissible reliance upon partner comments contaminated by stereotypes about sex-based
traits, particularly the “trait” of aggressiveness Hopkins displayed. Brennan put it this way:
Hopkins showed that the partnership solicited evaluations from all of the firm’s partners; that it generally relied very heavily on such evaluations in making its decision; that some of the partners’ comments were the product of stereotyping; and that the firm in no way disclaimed reliance on those particular comments, either in Hopkins’case or in the past. Certainly a plausible ? and, one might say, inevitable ? conclusion to draw from this set of circumstances is that the Policy Board in making its decision did in fact take into account all of the partners’ comments, including the comments that were motivated by stereotypical notions about women’s proper deportment.
We are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group, for in forbidding employers to discriminate against individuals because of their sex, Congress intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes.
An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissible catch 22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not. Title VII lifts women out of this bind.
As the Court of Appeals characterized it, Ann Hopkins proved that Price Waterhouse “permitted stereotypical attitudes towards women to play a significant, though unquantifiable, role in its decision not to invite her to become a partner. . . At this point Ann Hopkins had taken her proof as far as it could go. She had proved discriminatory input into the decisional process, and had proved that participants in the process considered her failure to conform to the stereotypes credited by a number of the decisionmakers had been a substantial factor in the decision.
There is no doubt that Congress considered reliance on gender or race in making employment decisions an evil in itself. As Senator Clark put it, “the bill simply eliminates consideration of color [or other forbidden criteria] from the decision to hire or promote.” (”What the bill does . . . is simply to make it an illegal practice to use race as a factor in denying employment”). Reliance on such factors is exactly what the threat of Title VII liability was meant to deter.
Ann Hopkins was a senior manager in an office of Price Waterhouse when she was proposed for partnership in 1982. She was neither offered nor denied admission to the partnership; instead, her candidacy was held for reconsideration the following year.When the partners in her office later refused to repropose her for partnership, she sued PriceWaterhouse under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, charging that the firm had discriminated against her on the basis of sex in its decisions regarding partnership. Judge Gesell in the Federal District Court forthe District of Columbia ruled in her favor on the question of liability, 618 F.Supp. 1109 (1985), and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. 263 U.S.App.D.C. 321, 825 F.2d 458 (1987). We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Courts of Appeals concerning the respective burdens of proof of a defendant and plaintiff in a suit under Title VII when it has been shown that an employment decision resulted from a mixture of legitimate and illegitimate motives. I
At Price Waterhouse, a nationwide professional accounting partnership, a senior manager becomes a candidate for partnership when the partners in her local office submit her name as a candidate. All of the other partners in the firm are then invited to submit written comments on each candidate — either on a “long” or a “short” form, depending on the partner’s degree of
exposure to the candidate. Not every partner in the firm submits comments on every candidate. After reviewing the comments and interviewing the partners who submitted them, the firm’s Admissions Committee makes a recommendation to the Policy Board. This recommendation will be either that the firm accept the candidate for partnership, put her application on “hold,” or deny her the promotion outright. The Policy Board then decides whether to submit the candidate’s name to the entire partnership for a vote, to “hold” her candidacy, or to reject her. The recommendation of the Admissions Committee, and the decision of the Policy Board, are not controlled by fixed guidelines: a certain number of positive comments from partners will
not guarantee a candidate’s admission to the partnership, nor will a specific quantity of negative comments necessarily defeat her application. Price Waterhouse places no limit on the number of persons whom it will admit to the partnership in any given year.
Ann Hopkins had worked at Price Waterhouse’s Office of Government Services in Washington, D.C., for five years when the partners in that office proposed her as a candidate for partnership. Of the 662 partners at the firm at that time, 7 were women.Of the 88 persons proposed for partnership that year, only 1 — Hopkins — was a woman. Forty-seven of these candidates were admitted to the partnership, 21 were rejected, and 20 — including Hopkins — were “held” for reconsideration the following year. Thirteen of the 32 partners who had submitted comments on Hopkins supported her bid for partnership.Three partners recommended that her candidacy be placed on hold, eight stated that they did not have an informed opinion about her, and eight recommended that she be denied partnership.
In a jointly prepared statement supporting her candidacy, the partners in Hopkins’ office showcased her successful 2-year effort to secure a $25 million contract with the Department of State, labeling it “an outstanding performance” and one that Hopkins carried out “virtually at the partner level.” Despite Price Waterhouse’s attempt at trial to minimize her contribution to this project, Judge Gesell specifically found that Hopkins had “played a key role in Price Waterhouse’s successful effort to win a multimillion-dollar contract with the Department of State.” Indeed, he went on,[n]one of the other partnership candidates at Price Waterhouse that year had a comparable record in terms of successfully securing major contracts for the partnership.
The partners in Hopkins’ office praised her character as well as her accomplishments, describing her in their joint statement as “an outstanding professional” who had a “deft touch,” a “strong character, independence and integrity.” Plaintiff’s Exh. 15. Clients appear to have agreed with these assessments. At trial, one official from the State Department described her as
“extremely competent, intelligent,” “strong and forthright, very productive, energetic and creative.” Tr. 150. Another high-ranking official praised Hopkins’ decisiveness, broadmindedness, and “intellectual clarity”; she was, in his words, “a stimulating conversationalist.” Id. at 156-157. Evaluations such as these led Judge Gesell to conclude that Hopkins “had no difficulty
dealing with clients and her clients appear to have been very pleased with her work” and that she
was generally viewed as a highly competent project leader who worked long hours, pushed vigorously to meet deadlines and demanded much from the multidisciplinary staffs with which she worked.
On too many occasions, however, Hopkins’ aggressiveness apparently spilled over into abrasiveness. Staff members seem to have borne the brunt of Hopkins’ brusqueness. Long before her bid for partnership, partners evaluating her work had counseled her to improve her relations with staff members. Although later evaluations indicate an improvement, Hopkins’ perceived
shortcomings in this important area eventually doomed her bid for partnership. Virtually all of the partners’ negative remarks about Hopkins — even those of partners supporting her — had to do with her “interpersonal skills.” Both “supporters and opponents of her candidacy,” stressed Judge Gesell, “indicated that she was sometimes overly aggressive, unduly harsh, difficult to work with, and impatient with staff.”
There were clear signs, though, that some of the partners reacted negatively to Hopkins’ personality because she was a woman. One partner described her as “macho” (Defendant’s Exh. 30); another suggested that she “overcompensated for being a woman” (Defendant’s Exh. 31); a third advised her to take “a course at charm school” (Defendant’s Exh. 27). Several partners
criticized her use of profanity; in response, one partner suggested that those partners objected to her swearing only “because it’s a lady using foul language.” Tr. 321. Another supporter explained that Hopkins ha[d] matured from a tough-talking somewhat masculine hard-nosed mgr to an authoritative, formidable, but much more appealing lady ptr candidate.
Defendant’s Exh. 27. But it was the man who, as Judge Gesell found, bore responsibility for explaining to Hopkins the reasons for the Policy Board’s decision to place her candidacy on hold who delivered the coup de grace: in order to improve her chances for partnership, Thomas Beyer advised, Hopkins should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.” 618 F.Supp. at 1117.
Dr. Susan Fiske, a social psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at Carnegie-Mellon University, testified at trial that the partnership selection process at Price Waterhouse was likely influenced by sex stereotyping. Her testimony focused not only on the overtly sex-based comments of partners but also on gender-neutral remarks, made by partners who knew Hopkins
only slightly, that were intensely critical of her. One partner, for example, baldly stated that Hopkins was “universally disliked” by staff (Defendant’s Exh. 27), and another described her as “consistently annoying and irritating” (ibid.); yet these were people who had had very little contact with Hopkins. According to [p*236] Fiske, Hopkins’ uniqueness (as the only woman in the pool
of candidates) and the subjectivity of the evaluations made it likely that sharply critical remarks such as these were the product of sex stereotyping — although Fiske admitted that she could not say with certainty whether any particular comment was the result of stereotyping. Fiske based her opinion on a review of the submitted comments, explaining that it was commonly accepted practice for social psychologists to reach this kind of conclusion without having met any of the people involved in the decisionmaking process.
In previous years, other female candidates for partnership also had been evaluated in sex-based terms. As a general matter,Judge Gesell concluded, “[c]andidates were viewed favorably if partners believed they maintained their femin[in]ity while becoming effective professional managers”; in this environment, “[t]o be identified as a `women’s lib[b]er’ was regarded as [a]
negative comment.” 618 F.Supp. at 1117. In fact, the judge found that, in previous years,
[o]ne partner repeatedly commented that he could not consider any woman seriously as a partnership candidate, and believed that women were not even capable of functioning as senior managers — yet the firm took no action to discourage his comments, and recorded his vote in the overall summary of the evaluations.
Judge Gesell found that Price Waterhouse legitimately emphasized interpersonal skills in its partnership decisions, and also found that the firm had not fabricated its complaints about Hopkins’ interpersonal skills as a pretext for discrimination. Moreover, he concluded, the firm did not give decisive emphasis to such traits only because Hopkins was a woman; although there were male candidates who lacked these skills but who were admitted to partnership, the judge found that these candidates possessed other, positive traits that Hopkins lacked.
The judge went on to decide, however, that some of the partners’ remarks about Hopkins stemmed from an impermissibly [p*237] cabined view of the proper behavior of women, and that Price Waterhouse had done nothing to disavow reliance on such comments. He held that Price Waterhouse had unlawfully discriminated against Hopkins on the basis of sex by consciously
giving credence and effect to partners’ comments that resulted from sex stereotyping. Noting that Price Waterhouse could avoid equitable relief by proving by clear and convincing evidence that it would have placed Hopkins’ candidacy on hold even absent this discrimination, the judge decided that the firm had not carried this heavy burden.
Respondent was a senior manager in an office of petitioner professional accounting partnership when she was proposed for partnership in 1982. She was neither offered nor denied partnership, but instead her candidacy was held for reconsideration the following year. When the partners in her office later refused to repropose her for partnership, she sued petitioner in Federal District Court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, charging that it had discriminated against her on the basis of sex in its partnership decisions. The District Court ruled in respondent’s favor on the question of liability, holding that petitioner had unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex by consciously giving credence and effect to partners’ comments about her that resulted from sex stereotyping. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Both courts held that an employer who has allowed a discriminatory motive to play a part in an employment decision must prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have made the same decision in the absence of discrimination, and that petitioner had not carried this burden.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS, concluded that, when a plaintiff in a Title VII case proves that her gender played a part in an employment decision, the defendant may avoid a finding of liability by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision even if it had not taken the plaintiff’s gender into account. The courts below erred by requiring petitioner to make its proof by clear and convincing evidence. Pp. 237-258 .
(a) The balance between employee rights and employer prerogatives established by Title VII by eliminating certain bases for distinguishing among employees, while otherwise preserving employers’ freedom of choice, is decisive in this case. The words “because of” in ? 703(a)(1) of the Act, which forbids an employer to make an adverse decision against an employee “because
of such individual’s . . . sex,” requires looking at all of the reasons, both legitimate and illegitimate, contributing to the decision at the time it is made. The preservation of employers’ freedom of choice means that an employer will not be liable if it can prove that, if [p*229] it had not taken gender into account, it would have come to the same decision. This Court’s prior decisions
demonstrate that the plaintiff who shows that an impermissible motive played a motivating part in an adverse employment decision thereby places the burden on the defendant to show that it would have made the same decision in the absence of the unlawful motive. Here, petitioner may not meet its burden by merely showing that respondent’s interpersonal problems –abrasiveness with staff members — constituted a legitimate reason for denying her partnership; instead, petitioner must show that its legitimate reason, standing alone, would have induced petitioner to deny respondent partnership. Pp. 239-252 .
(b) Conventional rules of civil litigation generally apply in Title VII cases, and one of these rules is that the parties need only prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. Pp. 252-255 .
(c) The District Court’s finding that sex stereotyping was permitted to play a part in evaluating respondent as a candidate for partnership was not clearly erroneous. This finding is not undermined by the fact that many of the suspect comments made about respondent were made by partners who were supporters, rather than detractors. Pp. 255-258 .
JUSTICE WHITE, although concluding that the Court of Appeals erred in requiring petitioner to prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have reached the same employment decision in the absence of the improper motive, rather than merely requiring proof by a preponderance of the evidence, as in Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, which sets forth the proper approach to causation in this case, also concluded that the plurality here errs in seeming to require, at least in most cases, that the employer carry its burden by submitting objective evidence that the same result would have occurred absent the unlawful motivation. In a mixed-motives case, where the legitimate motive found would have been ample grounds for the action taken, and the employer credibly testifies that the action would have been taken for the legitimate reasons alone, this should be ample proof, and there is no special requirement of objective evidence. This would even more plainly be the case where the employer denies any illegitimate motive in the first place, but the court finds that illegitimate, as well as legitimate, factors motivated the adverse action. Pp. 258-261 .
JUSTICE O’CONNOR, although agreeing that, on the facts of this case, the burden of persuasion should shift to petitioner to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision absent consideration of respondent’s gender, and that this burden shift is properly part of the liability phase of the litigation,