Corning Glass Works v. Brennan (Supreme Court Drama)
Petitioner: Corning Glass Works
Respondent: Peter J. Brennan, U.S. Secretary of Labor
Petitioner's Claim: That the Court of Appeals erred by ruling that Corning violated the Equal Pay Act.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Scott F. Zimmerman
Chief Lawyer for Respondent: Allan Abbot Tuttle
Justices for the Court: William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall (writing for the Court), Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Byron R. White
Justices Dissenting: Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, William H. Rehnquist (Potter Stewart did not participate)
Date of Decision: June 3, 1974
Decision: The Supreme Court said Corning violated the Equal Pay Act by paying male nightshift inspection workers higher wages than female dayshift inspection workers.
Significance: With Corning, the Supreme Court reinforced the policy of "equal pay for equal work."
Corning Glass Works was a company with production plants in Corning, New York, and Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Prior to 1925, Corning operated its Wellsboro plant only during the day. The employees who inspected finished products were all female.
Between 1925 and 1930, Corning began to use automatic production equipment, which made finished products faster than people made them. It became necessary for Corning to hire nightshift inspectors to keep up with the increased production. Corning, however, had two problems. Under New York and Pennsylvania law, women were not allowed to work at night. In addition, men thought inspection work was inferior work for women. Men would not do inspection work unless they got more money than female inspectors received. Corning gave the male nightshift inspectors more money.
Fair Labor Standards
In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act. The law required companies to pay men and women equally for similar work. By then, New York and Pennsylvania had gotten rid of the laws that prevented women from working at night.
In June 1966, Corning began to allow women to get the higher paying nightshift inspection jobs. Then in January 1969, Corning signed an
The U.S. Secretary of Labor filed two lawsuits against Corning, one in federal court in New York and one in Pennsylvania. The Secretary charged Corning with violating the Equal Pay Act by paying male nightshift inspectors higher wages than female dayshift inspectors. The Secretary said Corning could not fix the problem just by opening up nightshift jobs for women. He wanted Corning to give raises to the dayshift inspectors to make their wages equal to those of the nightshift inspectors.
Corning fought the lawsuit. The Equal Pay Act said companies could pay different wages for people working under different "working conditions." Corning said it paid nightshift workers more because working at night was less desirable. After trials and appeals, the federal court of appeals in New York ruled in favor of the United States while the one in Pennsylvania ruled in favor of Corning. The U.S. Supreme Court decided to review both cases.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
With a 5 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Secretary of Labor. Justice Thurgood Marshall delivered the Court's opinion. Marshall said Congress passed the Equal Pay Act to end the notion that men, because of their role in society, should get paid more than women for the same work. "Equal work should be rewarded by equal wages."
The problem, of course, was deciding whether nightshift and dayshift inspection was equal work. The Supreme Court said it was. Inspectors at night had the same surroundings and same hazards as inspectors during the day.
Marshall emphasized that Corning was free to pay nightshift workers more if working at night had added psychological or physical demands. Corning, however, had not proved that those demands existed. Its pay differential was a relic of the days when men were paid more because they were men. That was illegal sex discrimination under the Equal Pay Act. Corning would have to raise the pay rates for dayshift inspection workers.
Suggestions for further reading
Bourgoin, Suzanne Michele, and Paula Kay Byers. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Cary, Eve. Women and the Law. Skokie: National Textbook Company, 1984.
Hanmer, Trudy J. Taking a Stand against Sexism and Sex Discrimination. New York: Franklin Watts, 1990.
Shaw, Victoria. Coping with Sexual Harassment and Gender Bias. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1998.
Weiss, Ann E. The Glass Ceiling: A Look at Women in the Workforce. Twenty First Century Books, 1999.
Williams, Mary E. Working Women: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998.
Witt, Elder. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. District of Columbia: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1990.