The Law: Who Gets the Pink Slip?

Charles Watkins and three other young blacks are among nearly 200 workers who were laid off at a Continental Can Co. plant in Harvey, La. The layoffs were determined by the traditional seniority rule—last on the job, first to go—that is part of Continental's contract with the United Steelworkers. Normally no one would have a legal beef. But Watkins and his three buddies thought they had, and they went to court to prove it.

Prodded by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Continental Can by 1971 had increased the number of blacks in the Harvey...

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