Washington v. Louisiana Power and Light Co. - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 651 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: A landmark discrimination case where a minority employee sued Louisiana Power for racial discrimination, highlighting the relevance of intention and disparate treatment.


The case involves a black employee named Washington, who sued his employer, Louisiana Power and Light Company, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging racial discrimination in the workplace. Washington claimed that the company was promoting less qualified white employees over him and had failed to inform him of promotion opportunities.

Washington had been employed by the Company for several years, often facing discriminatory practices like being isolated and not promoted despite long service and good performance reviews. The primary evidence presented was the Company's treatment of Washington compared with its treatment of white employees.


The case revolved around issues of racial discrimination in employment. Specifically, whether the employer had engaged in disparate treatment by promoting less qualified white employees over a more qualified minority employee and whether the employer's conduct violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Another crucial issue was examining the Company's intention behind its actions, which would determine whether there was intentional discrimination or not.



This case has significantly contributed to U.S. employment discrimination jurisprudence. The judgment set a precedent for coming employment discrimination cases and clarified the standards for determining discrimination. It established disparate treatment as a form of racial discrimination and recognized the role of intentionality in disparate treatment.

It has had a significant impact on case law, influencing the burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973). The decision has guided policy-makers in amending anti-discrimination laws, and its influence can be seen in numerous subsequent case laws.


The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favour of Washington. It found that the Company had discriminated against Washington on account of his race. The court noted that the employer failed to provide a compelling justification for its behaviour and found sufficient evidence of disparate treatment.

This case established the pretext theory of liability and set a precedent that would heavily influence subsequent employment discrimination cases, significantly the Supreme Court's decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green.


  • Washington v. Louisiana Power and Light Co., 555 F.2d 1261 (5th Cir. 1977).
  • McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq.

Journalist Brief

This case is an example of racial discrimination in employment, where a black employee sued his employers for promoting less qualified white workers over him. The court supported the employee and criticized the Company for its behavior. This case was instrumental in establishing 'disparate treatment' as a form of racial discrimination, highlighting that unfair treatment based on race is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


What is the significance of the Washington v. Louisiana Power and Light Co. case?

Answer: This case is often cited as a seminal case in American employment discrimination law. It clarified the legal standards for proving discrimination, specifically highlighting the relevance of 'disparate treatment' and intentionality behind biased behavior.

What is the 'disparate treatment' principle?

Answer: 'Disparate Treatment' is a legal theory under which an employee claims that they were treated less favorably than others due to their race, sex, national origin, or religion, which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Did the court support the employee?

Answer: Yes, the court ruled in favor of the employee, Washington, citing substantial evidence of discrimination against him based on his race by the company.

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