In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court severely limited the ability of individuals to sue federally funded groups or institutions for race or national origin discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. In the past, individuals could sue such groups if their policies had a discriminatory effect – regardless of the groups’ intention. Today’s decision found that individuals cannot sue federally funded entities if their policies have a disparate impact; rather, federally funded entities can only be sued if they intended to discriminate. Title VI disparate impact cases had been used to challenge standardized examination given by schools, funding decisions of transportation authorities, and the placement of waste treatment plants in minority neighborhoods.
In a strongly-worded dissent, Justice Stevens called today’s decision “unfounded in our precedent and hostile to decades of settled expectations.” Indeed, the Court’s decision in this case is contrary to the conclusion reached by all 9 of the Courts of Appeals that have considered this issue. The Court’s decision today may also have implications for lawsuits brought under Title IX of the Education Act, which prohibits gender discrimination by federally funded educational entities.