Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney
442 U.S. 256 (1979)

  • Massachusetts had a law that said that veterans get preferential treatment when applying for State government jobs or promotions.
  • Feeney worked for the State government. She was repeatedly passed over for promotions because she was not a veteran.
  • Feeney sued, arguing that the State Statute was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it favored men over women.
    • Many more men joined the military than women.
      • Remember, at that time, men were still getting drafted, women were not.
  • The Trial Court found for Feeney. Massachusetts appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the Statute had not been enacted for the purpose of gender discrimination, but that its effects were so severe that the law violated equal protection.
  • The US Supreme Court found the Massachusetts Statute to be constitutional and not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
    • The US Supreme Court found that even if there was a discriminatory effect to Jackson’s actions, in order to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, a facially-neutral law must also be shown to have a discriminatory purpose.
      • Feeney unsuccessfully argued that there should be a presumption that natural and foreseeable consequences of voluntary actions should prove discriminatory purpose.
    • Although the Court acknowledged that lawmakers were certainly aware of the consequences of their actions, that doesn’t rise to the level of intent.
      • “‘Discriminatory purpose‘ implies more than an intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker selected and reaffirmed a particular cause of action at least in part ‘because of’, not merely ‘in spite of’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.”
  • The Court’s reasoning in this case is almost the opposite of criminal common law, where it is assumed that someone is acting with intent if they are acting with either purpose or knowledge that their acts will have a certain consequence.