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Washington v. Davis

Citation. 426 U.S. 229, 96 S. Ct. 2040, 48 L. Ed. 2d 597, 1976 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, Washington (Petitioner), a black man failed the written test to become a Washington, D.C. police recruit. He claims that the test was racially biased and cited the relatively low number of black cops on the force as evidence.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A rule that is neutral on its face and rationally related to a legitimate state interest is constitutional even though it may impact a race disproportionately.


Washington, D.C. required each police officer applicant to submit to a round of testing including physical tests and a written personnel test, Test 21. In order to enter the 17-week training course an applicant had to achieve 40 out of 80 on Test 21.
Petitioner took Test 21 in 1970 and failed it. He claims that this test is racially biased because the majority of black applicants who took it failed.


Does an employment test that results in a higher failure rate amongst black candidates deprive them of their Equal Protection rights?


No. The test is administered generally to all applicants and is used to determine the level of verbal skills the candidate has. Disproportionate impact is not the sole indicator of invidious racial discrimination.


Every other court presented with this same issue has found in the opposite. The test needs to be proven that it is an indicator of future job performance.


The majority focuses on the use of the test as a means of qualifying candidates for the job. The validity of the test was never determined or discussed as a possibility of a design flaw. Instead, it is treated as requirement that measures initial competence.

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