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Case Name Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney EE-MA-0026
Docket / Court 75-1991 ( D. Mass. )
Additional Docket(s) 74-5061-T  [ 74-5061 ]  District of MA (U.S.)
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
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 ... read more >
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.

Lauren Yu - 06/15/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-area
Hiring
Discrimination-basis
Sex discrimination
General
Disparate Impact
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Division of Civil Service of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Civil Service Commission
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.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 05/20/1975
Case Closing Year 1980
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney
Oyez
Date: Jun. 5, 1979
By: Oyez
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
D. Mass.
03/29/1976
Opinion (415 F.Supp. 485)
EE-MA-0026-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
State Supreme Court
09/16/1977
Opinion (373 Mass. 359)
EE-MA-0026-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
D. Mass.
05/03/1978
Opinion (451 F.Supp. 143)
EE-MA-0026-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Supreme Court
12/04/1978
Brief for The United States as Amicus Curiae
EE-MA-0026-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross
U.S. Supreme Court
06/05/1979
Opinion (442 U.S. 256)
EE-MA-0026-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
D. Mass.
08/17/1979
Memorandum and Order (475 F.Supp. 109)
EE-MA-0026-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0003
Campbell, Levin Hicks (D. Mass., First Circuit) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0004 | EE-MA-0026-0005
Liacos, Paul J (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0006
Marshall, Thurgood (Second Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0003
Murray, Frank Jerome (D. Mass.) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0004 | EE-MA-0026-0005
Stewart, Potter (Sixth Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0003
Tauro, Joseph Louis (D. Mass.) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0002 | EE-MA-0026-0004 | EE-MA-0026-0005
Plaintiff's Lawyers Kiley, Thomas R (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0006
Defendant's Lawyers Ward, Richard P (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0006
Other Lawyers Bryson, William Curtis (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0001
Easterbrook, Frank Hoover (Illinois) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0001
Jones, Benjamin (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0006
McCree, Wade H. Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0001
Taylor, Daniel A (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0026-0006

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