Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race and Society

BOND: I could argue that even today, at the height of tremendous success, that you do not function in the larger society, you function in the African American world -- that you're head of this predominantly African American organization that came out of this predominantly other African American organization that devotes most if its energies to righting wrongs committed against African Americans – that you're an African American leader.

JONES: Well, I am an African American, and you're right that I lead an organization that is looking after the interest, trying to protect the interest of African Americans, but also something else -- I cannot do it by myself, without other communities in this country buying into that notion. White America, you know -- Latino America, Asian America. At LDF our cases not only impact on African Americans. They help white Americans -- I can give you example after example -- white Americans, Latinos, Asian -- because it's the law. And once you've changed and impacted on the law, it impacts on all of us. It impacts on all of us and in a diversity -- I mean, it's our board, our staff. I mean, we're completely diverse. And I said, "Our affirmative action program -- make sure I have white lawyers on my staff. It's my affirmative action program." I mean, I have to, you know. I don't have to have white lawyers on my staff, but they bring something to LDF that's valuable. And so, you look at our staff and you're going to see that mix. I would take a case – and we took one to the Supreme Court – involving the rights of a sixty-two-year-old white woman.

BOND: The Kendall -- ?

JONES: Age discrimination case. No, that's -- this is age discrimination case and the name will come to me, about three or four years ago. It'll come to me. But, here she was, age discrimination case, you know. And she thought she was about to be fired, you know. And she took some documents home from the corporation and she eventually was fired. So she said this is violation of age discrimination. She and her lawyers – she's from Tennessee – brought the lawsuit. It was dismissed from the District Court. They said during the course of her deposition it was learned that she was taking these documents home. And that's an automatic dismissible offense. So the court said that negates any age claim you may have had. So you're out of here. You know courts are always trying to clear off their dockets anyway. So she went up to the Court of Appeals, she and her lawyer. The Court of Appeals threw her out by agreeing with the lower court. Dismissed. And they created a new rule there called the After Acquired Evidence Rule. See before we go to law school, we speak English. Afterwards, it's the After Acquired Evidence Rule. So, her lawyer contacted us.

BOND: Meaning that evidence acquired after the facts, had impact --

JONES: -- had impact on the facts. In other words, during the court, after she had filed a lawsuit on basis of age discrimination, it was learned that she had taken the documents home. That was the new -- that was the after acquired evidence. And so, that new evidence -- so, the company said, "We would have dismissed her had we known she had taken the documents home although we did not know it at the time."

BOND: Right.

JONES: So that erased her claim. It's an awful rule. So, that rule was being cemented. The question was -- her lawyer then came to Legal Defense Fund, because one thing we know how to do is, usually, to get into the Supreme Court and then stay out of the Supreme Court. You have to know both sides of it. So, he came to us, and I looked at that case. I said now why should LDF spend the $50,000 because all the briefing -- that's going to cost us money. This is a white female and it's a age case, it's not a race case. You know. It's not a case about any civil rights movement age, you know. Three reasons I did it. I looked at it and I said, "Wait a minute. This is the Age Discrimination Act." Age and disability are acts closely -- they're sister statutes to the civil rights statutes, you know, to the voting and housing. All of the rights come out of a provision of the 14th Amendment. Congress has authority, so I said, "No, no, age is important." So, I said all right, they are sister statutes. What happened in the Age Discrimination Act? Eventually, if we aren't careful, we'll seep into these other provisions of law, this after acquired evidence rule and negate our claims. The second reason I took it, I said, "This is age. And if I had an African American male standing up with the Supreme Court talking about rights, it may cast a different patina over the case, but if I have an age issue, the court may look at it with some greater understanding, maybe." And then I said, "Also it helps, I think, that the plaintiff in this case below, you know, is female and also is white female." I said, "There are two justices on that court -- "

BOND: Who are white female.

JONES: -- who are white females, who will look at the facts in this case and will not only understand it but will feel the injustice of what has happened to her," you know. And I said -- and so through this we could make law that applies across the board. So, I said, "LDF's going to take this case." We took it and brought the lawyer, her lawyer, up there. We wrote the briefs at first -- had to find the question to get the Supreme Court would take the case. So, we were able to do that, and then, when the Supreme Court sent the case down for argument, I told the lawyer that we would take the case on one condition, and that is if we felt that he could really make the oral argument and make an excellent argument, you know, that he could argue. Otherwise, if we did not think he could make that argument, then he would have to give that argument up, and let one of our lawyers make it. And I said if you agree to that, you know, so he agreed. We brought him up, we mooted him, took him to the moot court and practice runs and I mean -- and then we second chaired him, took him to the high court and we had our lawyer who had worked with him, sit next to him as he made the argument. He was masterful. He was good. We won that case, Julian, reversed both courts below. Guess what the vote was?

BOND: What?

JONES: Nine-zero.

BOND: All right.

JONES: Nine zip, so that -- what I'm saying is, our issues, when we took on all of the height and weight requirements in employment law, we had so many restrictions in the law that had nothing to do with one's ability to do the job.

BOND: Right.

JONES: We said you have to be six feet tall to be a state trooper. Why? That's so when he walks around to give you the ticket, you know, you can look up at him, I guess. I don't know what that had to do with your being able to be a qualified state trooper, you had to be -- Virginia had that law. It was across the country and what did that law do? It disproportionately denied women who are not usually six feet tall. Latinos are not usually six feet tall. And so, you have a rule here that had nothing to do with your ability to do the job, that eliminated whole groups of people, but we took it in under the civil rights statute, the employment law, Title 7, challenged that in the Supreme Court. When we got that height and weight requirement – you know, to be a flight attendant, you could only be 110 pounds – that means men, most men are over 110 pounds. I mean right then was sex based and the way the rules are crafted. So when we participated in taking those cases and we get rid of the height requirement, who do you help? Not only do you help Asians and Latinos and women, you help short white men. Short white men who before that could not get the position, now could apply and be considered. That's -- but nobody thinks about the civil rights laws in that way, opening up opportunities.

BOND: They don't think them in that way and I imagine there are people who say don't go that way because you're not helping black people, even though you may be.

JONES: But when you open up -- look, opening up the system always helps us. All we want is opportunities, real opportunity, to be able to compete and do things. We are too often shut out. If you apply the same criteria and the same benefits that you give others to us, we'd be golden. I'd take it any time. But we don't get it. You know, they come down on affirmative action. This country has practiced affirmative action since its beginning. It's usually been economically based, alumni, athletes and all that kind of stuff. We say, "Give us some of these same benefits."