Court Avoided in Affirmative Action Case

Published January 1, 1998

A coalition of civil rights groups helped raise over $300,000 of a $433,500 out-of-court settlement to an eight-year-old affirmative action case brought by a white New Jersey teacher who was laid off by the Piscataway Board of Education while a black teacher with equal seniority was retained. The U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case in its 1997-98 term. Although President George Bush’s Justice Department in 1991 had charged illegal racial discrimination by the school board, President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department attempted to switch sides and filed a brief supporting the school board’s action.

With the prospect of facing a U.S. Supreme Court that has shown little support for race-based employment decisions, civil rights groups wanted to settle the case rather than risk a ruling that sharply limited affirmative action considerations in the workplace. That could have been “a knockout blow” for racial preferences, said Clint Bolick of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice.