415 U.S. 36 (1974), 72-5847, Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.

Docket Nº:No. 72-5847
Citation:415 U.S. 36, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 39 L.Ed.2d 147
Party Name:Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.
Case Date:February 19, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

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415 U.S. 36 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 1011, 39 L.Ed.2d 147



Gardner-Denver Co.

No. 72-5847

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 19, 1974

Argued November 5, 1973




Following discharge by his employer, respondent company, petitioner, a black, filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement between respondent and petitioner's union, which contained a broad arbitration clause, petitioner ultimately claiming that his discharge resulted from racial discrimination. Upon rejection by the company of petitioner's claims, an arbitration hearing was held, prior to which petitioner filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission a racial discrimination complaint which was referred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The arbitrator ruled that petitioner's discharge was for cause. Following the EEOC's subsequent determination that there was not reasonable ground to believe that a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had occurred, petitioner brought this action [94 S.Ct. 1014] in District Court, alleging that his discharge resulted from a racially discriminatory employment practice in violation of the Act. The District Court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment, holding that petitioner was bound by the prior arbitral decision, and had no right to sue under Title VII. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: An employee's statutory right to trial de novo under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not foreclosed by prior submission of his claim to final arbitration under the nondiscrimination clause of a collective bargaining agreement. Pp. 44-60.

(a) Title VII was designed to supplement, rather than supplant, existing laws and institutions relating to employment discrimination, as may be inferred from the legislative history of Title VII, which manifests a congressional intent to allow an individual to pursue rights under Title VII and other applicable state and federal statutes. Pp. 47-49.

(b) The doctrine of election of remedies is inapplicable in the present context, which involves statutory rights distinctly separate from the employee's contractual rights, regardless of the fact that violation of both rights may have resulted from the same factual occurrence. Pp. 49-51.

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(c) By merely resorting to the arbitral forum, petitioner did not waive his cause of action under Title VII; the rights conferred thereby cannot be prospectively waived, and form no part of the collective bargaining process. Pp. 51-52.

(d) The arbitrator's authority is confined to resolution of questions of contractual rights, regardless of whether they resemble or duplicate Title VII rights. Pp. 52-54.

(e) In instituting a Title VII action, the employee is not seeking review of the arbitrator's decision, and thus getting (as the District Court put it) "two strings to his bow when the employer has only one," but is asserting a right independent of the arbitration process that the statute gives to employees, the only possible victims of discriminatory employment practices. P. 54.

(f) Permitting an employee to resort to the judicial forum after arbitration procedures have been followed does not undermine the employer's incentive to arbitrate, as most employers will regard the benefits from a no-strike pledge in the arbitration agreement as outweighing any costs resulting from giving employees an arbitral antidiscrimination remedy in addition to their Title VII judicial remedy. Pp. 54-55.

(g) A policy of deferral by federal courts to arbitral decisions (as opposed to adoption of a preclusion rule) would not comport with the congressional objective that federal courts should exercise the final responsibility for enforcement of Title VII and would lead to: the arbitrator's emphasis on the law of the shop, rather than the law of the land; factfinding and other procedures less complete than those followed in a judicial forum; and perhaps employees bypassing arbitration in favor of litigation. Pp. 55-59.

(h) In considering an employee's claim, the federal court may admit the arbitral decision as evidence and accord it such weight as may be appropriate under the facts and circumstances of each case. Pp. 59-60.

466 F.2d 1209, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

[94 S.Ct. 1015] MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns the proper relationship between federal courts and the grievance arbitration machinery of collective bargaining agreements in the resolution and enforcement of an individual's rights to equal employment opportunities under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Specifically, we must decide under what circumstances, if any, an employee's statutory right to a trial de novo under Title VII may be foreclosed by prior submission of his claim to final arbitration under the nondiscrimination clause of a collective bargaining agreement.


In May, 1966, petitioner Harrell Alexander, Sr., a black, was hired by respondent Gardner-Denver Co. (the company) to perform maintenance work at the company's plant in Denver, Colorado. In June, 1968, petitioner was awarded a trainee position as a drill operator

He remained at that job until his discharge from employment on September 29, 1969. The company informed petitioner that he was being discharged for producing too many defective or unusable parts that had to be scrapped.

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On October 1, 1969, petitioner filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement in force between the company and petitioner's union, Local No. 3029 of the United Steelworkers of America (the union). The grievance stated: "I feel I have been unjustly discharged, and ask that I be reinstated with full seniority and pay." No explicit claim of racial discrimination was made.

Under Art. 4 of the collective bargaining agreement, the company retained "the right to hire, suspend or discharge [employees] for proper cause."1 Article 5, § 2, provided, however, that "there shall be no discrimination against any employee on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or ancestry,"2 and Art. 23, § 6(a), stated that "[n]o employee will be discharged, suspended or given a written warning notice except for just cause."

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The agreement also contained a broad arbitration clause covering "differences aris[ing] between the Company and the Union as to the meaning and application of the provisions of this Agreement" and "any trouble aris[ing] in the plant."3 Disputes were to be submitted to a multi-step

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grievance procedure, the first four steps of which involved negotiations between the company and the union. If the dispute remained unresolved, it was to be remitted to compulsory arbitration. The company and the union were to select and pay the arbitrator, and

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his decision was to be "final and binding upon the Company, the Union, and any employee or employees involved." The agreement further provided that

[t]he arbitrator shall not amend, take away, add to, or change any of the provisions of this Agreement, and the arbitrator's decision must be based solely upon an interpretation of the provisions of this Agreement.

The parties also agreed that there "shall be no suspension of work" over disputes covered by the grievance arbitration clause.

The union processed petitioner's grievance through the above machinery. In the final pre-arbitration step, petitioner raised, apparently for the first time, the claim that his discharge resulted from racial discrimination. The company rejected all of petitioner's claims, and the grievance proceeded to arbitration. Prior to the arbitration hearing, however, petitioner filed a charge of racial discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which referred the complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 5, 1969.

[94 S.Ct. 1017] At the arbitration hearing on November 20, 1969, petitioner testified that his discharge was the result of racial discrimination and informed the arbitrator that he had filed a charge with the Colorado Commission because he "could not rely on the union." The union introduced a letter in which petitioner stated that he was

knowledgeable that, in the same plant, others have scrapped an equal amount and sometimes in excess, but by all logical reasoning I . . . have been the target of preferential discriminatory treatment.

The union representative also testified that the company's usual practice was to transfer unsatisfactory trainee drill operators back to their former positions.

On December 30, 1969, the arbitrator ruled that petitioner had been "discharged for just cause." He made no reference to petitioner's claim of racial discrimination.

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The arbitrator stated that the union had failed to produce evidence of a practice of transferring, rather than discharging trainee drill operators who accumulated excessive scrap, but he suggested that the company and the union confer on whether such an arrangement was feasible in the present case.

On July 25, 1970, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that there was not reasonable cause to believe that a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., had occurred. The Commission later notified petitioner of his right to institute a civil action in federal court within 30 days. Petitioner then filed the present action in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging that his discharge resulted from a racially...

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