Before the early 1970s, many employers did not require that applicants have college degrees – even for well-paying jobs necessitating advanced skills and intelligence. A high school diploma and a passing score on an employee aptitude test were, in many instances, enough for a worker to advance in a rewarding and lucrative career. Unfortunately, as George Leef points out in today’s Pope Center feature, the Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) effectively precluded employers from basing hiring decisions on aptitude test results. The reverberations of that decision are still being felt today.
In Griggs, the Court deferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) interpretation of section 703(h) of the Civil Rights Act (CRA), which permitted employers to use a “professionally designed ability test” so long as the test was not “designed, intended or used to discriminate…” The EEOC, which enforced the CRA, had promulgated a broad interpretation of that provision, making it illegal for a test to have a “disparate impact” on minorities. For example, if an employee aptitude test disproportionately weeded out black applicants, it would be considered illegal.
As Leef makes clear, the end result of the Griggs decision was that employers became paranoid about using aptitude tests, for fear of potential litigation costs. Instead, they began to use the college diploma as the new employee screening device. “We probably have a college ‘bubble’ just from the effects of easy federal college aid and the push by politicians for educational attainment, but by making employee testing legally dangerous, the Griggs decision helped inflate it,” he writes.