Case: Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney

1:75-cv-01991 | U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Filed Date: May 20, 1975

Closed Date: Feb. 25, 1980

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On May 20, 1975, a non-veteran woman who had applied for civil service positions in Massachusetts filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its Division of Civil Service, and the members of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission. Represented by private counsel, she sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking injunctive relief.Massachusetts had passed the Massachusetts Veterans' Preference Statute, which gave an absolu…

On May 20, 1975, a non-veteran woman who had applied for civil service positions in Massachusetts filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its Division of Civil Service, and the members of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission. Represented by private counsel, she sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking injunctive relief.

Massachusetts had passed the Massachusetts Veterans' Preference Statute, which gave an absolute preference to veterans when hiring for state civil service positions. The application process included an exam, but the Veterans' Preference took precedent over exam scores by ranking applicants as follows: (1) disabled veterans, (2) other veterans, (3) widows and widowed mothers of veterans, and (4) all other applicants. Within each group, applicants were ranked according to their exam scores. The plaintiff alleged that the Veterans' Preference was discriminatory against women and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She argued that because women had fewer opportunities to serve in the armed forces due to various statutory limitations, the practical consequence was that women were deprived of the opportunity to compete for the most attractive state civil service positions despite having higher test scores than most of the veteran men who had been given preference.

Because the case challenged the constitutionality of a state law, under the court procedure then applicable, it was assigned to a three-judge district court, with direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The three judges were Circuit Judge Campbell, and District Judges Murray and Tauro.

With the parties' consent, the district court entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting the defendants from filling any positions sought by the plaintiff.

After, the court consolidated this case with Anthony v. Commonwealth (Docket No. 74-5061), a previously filed case where four non-veteran women had also challenged the Veterans' Preference.

On March 29, 1976, the district court, in an opinion by Judge Tauro, held that Anthony was moot. The positions that the Anthony plaintiffs had sought were eliminated on July 16, 1975. The plaintiffs argued that the act of compiling a list of eligible applicants with preference to veterans violated their equal protection rights. The district court held that, because the eligibility list did not guarantee appointment to a position, the potential injury would have to be tied to the (no longer open) positions themselves rather than the eligibility list, and thus the case was moot. 415 F. Supp. 485.

In the same opinion from March 29, 1976, the district court proceeded on the merits for Feeney and held that the Veterans' Preference was unconstitutional. There was an equal protection violation because the Veterans' Preference created an "absolute and permanent disadvantage over another clearly identifiable group, Massachusetts' women," despite the "worthy purpose" of rewarding veterans for their service. Because veteran status was the primary criterion for ranking, the Veterans' Preference "relegated job-related criteria and professional qualifications to a secondary position." 415 F. Supp. 485.

The Massachusetts Attorney General appealed on behalf of the defendants. The U.S. Supreme Court certified a procedural question to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts about the Massachusetts Attorney General's authority to prosecute the appeal. On September 16, 1977, the Supreme Judicial Court held that it was within the Attorney General's authority. 373 Mass. 359.

On October 11, 1977, the Supreme Court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case in light of Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229 (1976) (holding that disparate impact alone was not enough to show an equal protection violation). 434 U.S. 884.

On May 3, 1978, the district court concluded that its March 1976 opinion was not changed by Davis, or by the Court's later opinion elaborating the difference between disparate impact (often lawful) and disparate treatment (unlawful) in Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977) (holding that the plaintiff needed to show there was discriminatory intent or purpose). The district court distinguished this case from Davis by describing how the explicit preference for veterans foreclosed, on average, 98% of women from significant civil service appointments. Moreover, a large percentage of women who did work in civil service held positions that men traditionally did not seek. Also unlike Davis, the defendants had not demonstrated any attempt to mitigate the impact of the Veterans' Preference on women. 451 F. Supp. 143.

The Massachusetts Attorney General appealed again on behalf of the defendants to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded the case on June 5, 1979. The Court found that the Veterans' Preference was gender neutral and that Massachusetts had consistently defined "veteran" to include women who served in the military. In addition, the Court took into account the district court's admission that Massachusetts had not enacted the Veterans' Preference for the purpose of giving men an advantage. Thus, applying Davis, the Court held that the law merely favored veterans (of any gender) over non-veterans (of any gender). 442 U.S. 256.

On remand, after the Supreme Court's opinion, the plaintiff moved to continue litigating the case on her due process claims, which she argued had not been foreclosed by the Court's opinion. On August 17, 1979, the district court denied the motion because the plaintiff's motion asserted a new due process claim, alleging that denying access to public employment on a wholesale basis deprived all non-veterans (regardless of gender) of liberty. The district court also held that relevant due process claims were foreclosed by the Supreme Court's opinion because the reasoning was similar enough to the equal protection claim. 475 F. Supp. 109.

The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which summarily affirmed the district court's judgment on February 25, 1980. 445 U.S. 901.

This case has ended.

Summary Authors

Lauren Yu (6/15/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (District of Columbia)

Campbell, Levin Hicks (Massachusetts)

Liacos, Paul J (Massachusetts)

Marshall, Thurgood (District of Columbia)

Murray, Frank Jerome (Massachusetts)

Stewart, Potter (District of Columbia)

Tauro, Joseph Louis (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Kiley, Thomas R (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ward, Richard P (Massachusetts)

Other Attorney(s)

Active

Judge(s)

Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (District of Columbia)

Campbell, Levin Hicks (Massachusetts)

Liacos, Paul J (Massachusetts)

Marshall, Thurgood (District of Columbia)

Murray, Frank Jerome (Massachusetts)

Stewart, Potter (District of Columbia)

Tauro, Joseph Louis (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Kiley, Thomas R (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ward, Richard P (Massachusetts)

Other Attorney(s)

Bryson, William Curtis (District of Columbia)

Easterbrook, Frank Hoover (Illinois)

Jones, Benjamin (Massachusetts)

McCree, Wade H. Jr. (District of Columbia)

Taylor, Daniel A (Massachusetts)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

1:75-cv-01991

1:74-cv-05061

Opinion

Anthony v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts

415 F.Supp. 485

March 29, 1976

March 29, 1976

Order/Opinion

Opinion

Feeney v. Commonwealth

Massachusetts state supreme court

373 Mass. 359

Sept. 16, 1977

Sept. 16, 1977

Order/Opinion

1:75-cv-01991

Opinion

Feeney v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts

451 F.Supp. 143

May 3, 1978

May 3, 1978

Order/Opinion

78-00233

Brief for The United States as Amicus Curiae

Personal Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney

Supreme Court of the United States

Dec. 4, 1978

Dec. 4, 1978

Pleading / Motion / Brief

78-00233

Opinion

Supreme Court of the United States

442 U.S. 256

June 5, 1979

June 5, 1979

Order/Opinion

1:75-cv-01991

Memorandum and Order

Feeney v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts

475 F.Supp. 109

Aug. 17, 1979

Aug. 17, 1979

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 7, 2022, 3:19 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Massachusetts

Case Type(s):

Equal Employment

Special Collection(s):

Civil Rights Division Archival Collection

Key Dates

Filing Date: May 20, 1975

Closing Date: Feb. 25, 1980

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

A non-veteran woman who had applied for state civil service positions in Massachusetts and was ranked behind veterans with lower examination scores.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State

Division of Civil Service of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State

Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Issues

General:

Disparate Impact

Pattern or Practice

Discrimination-area:

Hiring

Discrimination-basis:

Sex discrimination

Affected Gender:

Female