Gratz, et al. v. Bollinger, et al., No. 97-75321 (E.D. Mich.)
Grutter, et al. v. Bollinger, et al., No. 97-75928 (E.D. Mich.)


There have been significant changes in the racial composition of the American workforce over the last fifty years. In 1963, when Ford Motor Company was asked to list its white-collar occupations that employed blacks, it included valets, porters, security guards, messengers, barbers, mail clerks, and telephone operators. (48) That such a list would be unimaginable today offers evidence of how much has changed. Only three decades ago, whole sectors of the economy were nearly all white. There were virtually no black, Hispanic, or Native American college professors. The number of black lawyers was minuscule and the vast majority of all-white law firms did not admit black lawyers. Black doctors could not get positions or even privileges in white hospitals. Nary a black face could be found among the tens of thousands of middle-level, white-collar workers in Detroit's private firms. The records of civil rights organizations like the Detroit Urban League contain many letters from highly qualified African Americans who were unable to get white collar jobs in white firms. (49)

Minorities made limited inroads in the blue-collar sector in the mid-twentieth century. Minorities made their biggest gains in the auto industry, particularly during World War II, when their representation in the auto plants of Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw rose significantly. But they were generally confined to certain sections of plants and certain job classifications and were virtually absent from many other factory complexes. With few exceptions, black and Hispanic workers were confined to what one observer aptly called "the meanest and dirtiest jobs" in the urban economy, whether it be janitorial, sanitation, maintenance work, or work in the unbearably hot and life-threatening forges at automobile and steel plants. And minorities were excluded from many other jobs altogether. Whole sectors of the labor market, ranging from the unionized, skilled trades to sales positions, were almost entirely closed to blacks. The unionized building trades remained heavily white. Few blacks could be found in metropolitan Detroit's brewing, chemical, and tool and die factories. Apprenticeship programs, the gateway to the lucrative skilled trades, were virtually closed to minorities. Until the 1960s, blacks and Hispanics had virtually no jobs that involved personal contact with white customers such as retail clerks, bank tellers, airline stewardesses, and cashiers. (50)

The walls of racial privilege fell slowly in Detroit area workplaces. A coalition of civil rights activists, elected officials from both parties, and unionists campaigned for workplace integration. Many of the state's most prominent employers opposed the 1955 Fair Employment Practices law that forbade discrimination on the basis of race or creed in Michigan. In the early 1960s, civil rights pickets in front of some of the state's most venerable businesses (the National Bank of Detroit and General Motors) led these companies to take steps to bring aboard black employees to avoid public embarrassment. Other civil rights activists targeted the mostly white skilled trades and apprenticeship program and targeted department stores, breweries, and groceries, all of which had formerly excluded minorities. (51)

In the aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many firms began to open their doors gradually to minority employees. Government contractors, bound by anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, made inroads in the hiring of minorities. But the experience of minorities in private sector employment has been mixed. Some employers continued to prefer the comfort of homogeneity and avoid what they perceive to be the risks of diversification. Data from the Multi-City study of Urban Inequality shows that in Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, many employers regularly make hiring decisions based on stereotypes about minorities and use race or ethnicity as "signals" of desirable or undesirable work characteristics. Many employers fear that minority workers will be less reliable, prone to crime, and unwilling to work hard. (52) Detailed interviews with Chicago area employers have also found that employers use race as a proxy for worker skills, motivation, and personal characteristics. (53) Pernicious racial stereotypes persist in many workplaces, a consequence of the fact that most white employers know precious little about minority workers and have little experience with them in other aspects of their daily lives.

Change also occurred haltingly for middle-class minorities. Prior to the civil rights era, there was a small black middle-class, mostly owners of what were called "race" businesses, such as funeral homes, restaurants and clubs, barber shops, and small stores that served a largely black clientele. Black businesspeople, with few exceptions, operated in a segregated world. For example, before 1961, there were no black "realtors." Black real estate brokers were called "realtists," because they were denied membership in the Detroit Real Estate Board and forbidden to use the trademark name "realtor." Even in the case of government, where blacks made the largest inroads, most were clustered in a few departments that served a primarily black constituency. (54)

A transformation in the composition of the black middle class occurred largely in two periods, between 1950 and 1960 and most dramatically after 1970 (Table 9). In 1960, the entire state of Michigan had only 324 black physicians, 142 black lawyers, 201 black engineers, and 95 black college teachers. The number of black physicians actually fell during the 1960s and the number of black lawyers increased by only 51 in that decade. But between 1970 and 1990, the number of black professionals rose significantly. By 1990, Michigan had 1,076 black doctors, 1,178 black lawyers, 2,658 black engineers, and 1,509 black college teachers. By any measure, the gains over a short twenty year period were remarkable. The number of black professionals rose most steadily in the aftermath of the civil rights era, as the first sizeable generation of black students graduated from law schools, medical schools, and other institutions of higher education (Table 9).

The increase in the number of black professionals after 1970 had roots in two major changes. The first was the dramatic expansion of opportunities in higher education for African Americans. The percentage of blacks with more than a high school education rose gradually in the postwar era, primarily because blacks migrated to the north, where they had greater educational opportunities than in the Jim Crow south (Table 10). Still, significant black-white gaps persisted. Indeed, the ratio of blacks and whites in higher education worsened slightly in the 1960s but improved dramatically after 1970. The biggest increases came after 1970 when blacks entered universities and professional and graduate schools in large numbers for the first time.

The second major change occurred in private and public sector hiring practices, particularly for white-collar positions. Government became one of the most important avenues for minority opportunity. And in the 1970s, many employers began to reach out to minority workers out of fear of litigation. Some of the largest minority white-collar gains came in personnel offices that deal with state and federal agencies that enforced anti-discrimination laws. Many employers also began to create more diverse workforces when they realized that multicultural workplaces offered many competitive advantages. In some firms, minorities have made gains in positions that required contact with minority customers or clients in Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean. Others have hired minority executives in sales and marketing to reach lucrative ethnic niches in the market. And growing number of employers contend that a diverse workforce brings significant competitive advantages. In 1984, the Xerox company, to take one example, launched a plan to create a "balanced workforce." Only a decade earlier, Xerox was one of the most homogeneously white firms in the country, with few minority employees. (55) In a 1996 Harvard Business Review article that surveyed employers about racial and ethnic diversity, David Thomas and Robin Ely noted that a growing number of managers argue that "[a] more diverse workforce will . . . increase organizational effectiveness. It will lift morale, bring greater access to new segments of the marketplace and enhance productivity . . . . (56) In addition, predictions about demographic change over the next half century have provided a compelling rationale that workplace diversity is crucial to firms' growth and survival. (57)

In sum, the experience of minorities in the workforce is mixed. Many employers still discriminate, the consequence of the persistence of stereotypes about minority groups. Other employers, particularly in the white collar sector, are demanding more diverse workforces and rewarding employees who have experience with diversity and are comfortable in diverse settings.

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