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Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive

Appeals Court Overrules

Two years later, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, heard the case in Chicago. On 26 September 1969, the judges reversed most of the lower court's decision. It found that, although a defendant would have to defend himself or herself twice, it was necessary to allow plaintiffs to pursue remedies through both the courts and through arbitration, because each channel might offer different remedies. However, remedies should only be enacted at the end of the entire process so that there was no duplication, which would be unfair to a defendant.

Although the appeals court found the district court's approach to be "carefully reasoned and conscientious," it also concluded that the decision was based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of Title VII. Just because state protective laws could stand as long as they did not conflict with Title VII, the district court could not conclude that those same laws were not affected by Title VII.

The EEOC's position at the time--that Congress did not mean to overturn all protective laws--was taken out of context by the lower court. The EEOC's limited interpretation of the bona fide occupational qualification exception did not allow the labeling of jobs as "male" or "female," since labeling would exclude men or women from many job opportunities.

The appeals court emphasized that the practice of creating seniority systems that segregate "light" and "heavy" jobs may not be used if they merely disguise gender classifications or make it more difficult for men or women to advance into positions for which they normally would be suitable. The court pointed to three cases coming before Bowe in which the EEOC had favored individual testing of weight-lifting ability, rather than weight-lifting limits based on sex.

The court also ruled that since there was a lack of agreement about precisely how much weight women can lift from state to state, and since many of those limits were too old to be relevant to the physical condition of contemporary women, weight-lifting ability should be tested individually. The conditions of work and the manner in which weight-lifting should be performed should also be taken into account.

Colgate could maintain its current 35-pound weight-lifting limit only as it applied to both men and women. Colgate was required to give notice to all employees that they would be regularly granted opportunities to prove their suitability for more physically demanding jobs. Employees who have this capacity must be allowed to pursue any position and be paid appropriately for their level of seniority.

Regarding the other issues, on 28 November 1973, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, sent the case back to the district court to create a system in which seniority and other disputes were handled fairly. The court extended the right to get back pay to additional plaintiffs. It granted the right to sue for back pay even to plaintiffs who had not filed a charge with the EEOC and instructed Colgate to notify employees that this opportunity was available. Title VII suits must, by definition, be class-action suits because they were based on a quality shared by a class of people.

Echoing the views of other courts on Title VII suits and on racial discrimination cases, the court found that Title VII suits were meant to advance public policy endorsed by Congress. The intent of Congress was not just to change a defendant's behavior, but for other types of redress (such as back pay), as well. The goal of Title VII was clearly to end discrimination and to compensate its victims. The most efficient way of achieving this result would be through class-action suits.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive - Significance, Protective Legislation, Gender Segregation, The First Round, Appeals Court Overrules, Impact