Court Won't Review Layoffs Based on Race; A.F.T. Decries Abrogation of Seniority Rights
A case that some observers predicted would be "the biggest reverse-discrimination suit since Bakke" was stopped in its tracks last week when the Supreme Court declined to review two lower-court rulings.
The Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Association of School Administrators had asked the Justices to overturn a U.S. district court's order requiring that the Boston School Committee use race, not seniority, as the major criterion in laying off teachers and administrators. U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity had ordered the race-based layoffs as part of the city's school-desegregation case.
Judge Garrity's order, issued at the request of the Boston School Committee, stemmed from his previous orders in the desegregation case, which dates back to 1974. In his original liability finding that year, the judge determined that the school committee's practices in hiring and assigning teachers and administrators discriminated against black employees and black students.
In 1975, he directed the school system to recruit members of minority groups for professional positions until they represented 20 percent of the faculty and supervisory staff. This year, slightly over 20 percent of the city's teachers and administrators are black, according to Ian Forman, a spokesman for the system.
As a result of severe financial constraints, the school committee early last year told Judge Garrity that layoffs would be necessary and asked his permission to base layoffs and recalls on race. The judge, concluding that the constitutional issues overrode the seniority provisions of employees' contracts, agreed, although no black employees made specific claims of discrimination.
His order was upheld early this year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
The teachers' union, with backing from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (aft), and from the afl-cio, claimed that Judge Garrity's order exceeded the permissible remedies in desegregation cases and that it violated the constitutional and contractual rights of white teachers.
More than 1,100 tenured white teachers in Boston, many of whom have more than 10 years' service, have been laid off since the order was issued, while black teachers with less seniority have been retained and new black teachers hired, the union contended. About 300 of the white teachers have been recalled, Mr. Forman said.
Albert Shanker, president of the aft, said in a prepared statement last week that "the Court's decision not to grant review does not mean that the Court has passed judgment on the merits of the issues presented. It does not mean that the Court affirms or agrees with the lower-court decision. It means only that the Supreme Court, at the complete discretion of the Court and for whatever reasons it so decides, does not choose to review this case or to address these issues at this time.''
Mr. Shanker predicted that the Court ultimately will have to address the question of layoffs based on race, noting that similar cases are pending in Illinois, Michigan, and New York.
Boston school officials said that they were not surprised by the Supreme Court's decision and that they were glad the question had been settled.
The cases were Local 66, Boston Teachers Union v. Boston School Committee and Boston Association of School Administrators v. Morgan.--pc