Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins

490 U.S. 288
Brief Filed: 6/88
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1989

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 493KB)


Whether social psychological research and expert testimony regarding sex-role stereotyping is sufficient to support a finding of sex-discrimination in a Title VII (mixed motivation) case

Index Topics

Employment (gender); Expert Witnesses/Psychologists' Competency


Hopkins sued Price Waterhouse in federal district court alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII after she was refused partnership in the firm. The firm admitted that Hopkins was qualified to be considered for partnership and probably would have been admitted, but for her interpersonal problems (i.e., they felt she needed to wear more make up, to walk and talk more femininely, etc.). Hopkins made out a prima facie case on a disparate treatment theory. Thus, the question before the court was whether the interpersonal skills rationale constituted a legitimate nondiscriminatory basis on which to deny her partnership, or merely a pretext to disguise sex discrimination. The court required Price Waterhouse to show by clear and convincing evidence that the denial of partnership would have occurred absent the discrimination she had demonstrated. Price Waterhouse failed to meet this burden. On appeal to the DC Circuit, Price Waterhouse challenged the trial court's burden shifting requirement and the application of the clear and convincing standard, claiming that Hopkins should have been required to show that impermissible discrimination was the predominant motivating factor in the adverse partnership decision. The DC Circuit affirmed in relevant part and Price Waterhouse petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.

APA's Position

APA submitted an amicus brief arguing that: (1) empirical research on sex stereotyping has been conducted over many decades and is generally accepted in the scientific community; (2) stereotyping under certain conditions can create discriminatory consequences for stereotyped groups — for example, where they shape perceptions about women's typical and acceptable roles in society — and that negative effects on women in work settings have been demonstrated; (3) the conditions that promote stereotyping were present in petitioner's work setting; and (4) although petitioner was found to have taken no effective steps to prevent its discriminatory stereotyping of respondent, methods are available to monitor and reduce the effects of stereotyping.


The Court reversed the DC Circuit and held that the defendant could avoid liability by showing nondiscriminatory motivation by a preponderance of the evidence.