Watson v. Fort Worth Bank and Trust

487 U.S. 977
Brief Filed: 9/87
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1988

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 644KB)


Whether the use of non-validated employment assessment tools violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Index Topics

Employment (race); Tests (Use, Validity, & Security of Psychological Tests & Test Data)


A black employee at Fort Worth Bank & Trust was rejected four times for promotion to supervisory positions in favor of white applicants. In assessing her candidacy, the bank used interviews, rating scales and experience requirements which had not been subjected to validation procedures. After her fourth rejection, the employee brought a claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The bank asserted that interviews and rating scales should not be subjected to the validation procedures required in disparate impact cases — i.e., that it should not be required to show that the criteria are job-related. The district court agreed, disallowing plaintiff's claim under the disparate impact theory of Title VII. Instead, the court analyzed her claim under the disparate treatment theory, which requires a plaintiff to show intentional discrimination. The court ruled that, while she had made a prima facie case of discrimination, the bank had a legitimate nondiscriminatory basis for not promoting her. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the holding. Because the question of whether disparate impact analysis could be used with subjective devices had been answered differently by a number of federal appeals courts, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

APA's Position

APA submitted an amicus brief arguing that: (1) "subjective-evaluation" devices can and should be scientifically validated and their use by employers should not preclude judicial review under any Title VII theory; (2) the subjective selection procedures used by the bank failed to meet generally accepted standards and appeared to have been applied without any evidence that they were valid for the inferences drawn from them; and (3) the failure to require that subjective selection devices have demonstrable validity would undermine the purposes of Title VII. The case provided the first opportunity for APA to inform the Court of the applications of the revised AERA, APA and NCME Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing since they had been adopted by the Board of Representatives in 1985.


The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Fifth Circuit's decision and remanded the case.