In 1976, five black women who labored on the assembly line at General Motors in St. Louis sued their employer, alleging that the auto giant’s seniority-based layoff system, in which the last workers hired were the first to be fired, discriminated against them on the basis of both race and sex. In the subsequent DeGraffenreid v. General Motors ruling, the Court rejected their claim, arguing that protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permitted them to bring forth a complaint of race-based discrimination or of sex-based discrimination, but in the court’s terms, “not a combination of both.” Because the company could prove that it had hired some women (who were all white) who did not face the same seniority-based layoffs experienced by the black women plaintiffs, as well as some African Americans (who were all men) who also did not lose their jobs, the DeGraffenreid plaintiffs found little protection …

This essay may be found on page 142 of the printed volume.

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