355 U.S. 41 (1957), 7, Conley v. Gibson

Docket Nº:No. 7
Citation:355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80
Party Name:Conley v. Gibson
Case Date:November 18, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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355 U.S. 41 (1957)

78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80

Conley

v.

Gibson

No. 7

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 18, 1957

Argued October 21, 1957

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners, who are Negro members of a union designated as their bargaining agent under the Railway Labor Act, brought a class suit against the union, its brotherhood and certain of their officers to compel them to represent petitioners without discrimination in protection of their employment and seniority rights under a contract between the union and the Railroad. They alleged that the Railroad had purported to abolish 45 jobs held by petitioners and other Negroes, but had employed whites in the same jobs (except in a few instances in which it had rehired Negroes to fill their old jobs with loss of seniority) and that, despite repeated pleas, the union had done nothing to protect petitioners from such discriminatory discharges. The District Court dismissed the suit on the ground that the National Railroad Adjustment Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the controversy. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. It was error to dismiss the complaint for want of jurisdiction. Section 3 First (i) of the Railway Labor Act confers upon the Adjustment Board exclusive jurisdiction only over "disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers," whereas this is a suit by employees against their bargaining agent to enforce their statutory right not to be discriminated against by it in bargaining. Pp. 44-45.

2. The Railroad was not an indispensable party to this suit, and failure to join it was not a ground for dismissing the suit. P. 45.

3. The complaint adequately set forth a claim upon which relief could be granted. Pp. 45-48.

(a) The fact that, under the Railway Labor Act, aggrieved employees can file their own grievances with the Adjustment Board or sue the employer for breach of contract is no justification for the union's alleged discrimination in refusing to represent petitioners. P. 47.

(b) Failure of the complaint to set forth specific facts to support its general allegations of discrimination was not a sufficient

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ground for dismissal of the suit, since the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim. Pp. 47-48.

229 F.2d 436, reversed.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Once again, Negro employees are here under the Railway Labor Act1 asking that their collective bargaining agent be compelled to represent them fairly. In a series of cases beginning with Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 323 U.S. 192, this Court has emphatically and repeatedly ruled that an exclusive bargaining agent under the Railway Labor Act is obligated to represent all employees in the bargaining unit fairly and without discrimination because of race, and has held that the courts have power to protect employees against such invidious discrimination.2

This class suit was brought in a Federal District Court in Texas by certain Negro members of the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, petitioners here, on behalf of themselves and other Negro employees similarly situated against the Brotherhood, its Local Union No. 28 and certain officers of both. In summary, the complaint

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made the following allegations relevant to our decision: Petitioners were employees of the Texas and New Orleans Railroad at its Houston Freight House. Local 28 of the Brotherhood was the designated bargaining agents under the Railway Labor Act for the bargaining unit to which petitioners belonged. A contract existed between the Union and the Railroad which gave the employees in the bargaining unit certain protection from discharge and loss of seniority. In May, 1954, the Railroad purported to abolish 45 jobs held by petitioners or other Negroes, all of whom were either discharged or demoted. In truth, the 45 jobs were not abolished at all, but instead filled by whites as the Negroes were ousted, except for a few instances where Negroes were rehired to fill their old jobs, but with loss of seniority. Despite repeated pleas by petitioners, the Union, acting according to plan, did nothing to protect them against these discriminatory discharges and refused to give them protection comparable to that given white employees. The complaint then went on to allege that the Union had failed in general to represent Negro employees [78 S.Ct. 101] equally and in good faith. It charged that such discrimination constituted a violation of petitioners' right under the Railway Labor Act to fair representation from their bargaining agent. And it concluded by asking for relief in the nature of declaratory judgment, injunction and damages.

The respondents appeared and moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds: (1) the National Railroad Adjustment Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the controversy; (2) the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, which had not been joined, was an indispensable party defendant; and (3) the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be given. The District Court granted the motion to dismiss holding that Congress had given the Adjustment Board exclusive jurisdiction over

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the controversy. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, apparently relying on the same ground, affirmed. 229 F.2d 436. Since the case raised an important question concerning the protection of employee rights under the Railway Labor Act we granted certiorari. 352 U.S. 818.

We hold that it was error for the courts below to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. They took the position that § 3 First (i) of the Railway Labor Act conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the Adjustment Board because the case, in their view, involved the interpretation and application of the collective bargaining agreement. But § 3 First (i), by its own terms, applies only to "disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers."3 This case involves no dispute between employee and employer, but, to the...

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