431 U.S. 395 (1977), 75-718, East Texas Motor Freight System, Inc. v. Rodriguez

Docket Nº:No. 75-718
Citation:431 U.S. 395, 97 S.Ct. 1891, 52 L.Ed.2d 453
Party Name:East Texas Motor Freight System, Inc. v. Rodriguez
Case Date:May 31, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 395

431 U.S. 395 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1891, 52 L.Ed.2d 453

East Texas Motor Freight System, Inc.

v.

Rodriguez

No. 75-718

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1977

Argued January 10-11, 1977

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents, Mexican-Americans, brought suit against petitioners, their unions and their employer, a common carrier that employs city and over-the-road ("line") drivers, claiming that their rejection for line driver jobs under the company's "no-transfer" policy in conjunction with the discriminatory effect of the seniority system applicable under collective bargaining agreements between the company and the unions was racially and ethnically discriminatory, and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although respondents alleged that the case was a class action brought on behalf of the named plaintiffs and all Negroes and Mexican-Americans who had been denied equal employment opportunities with the company because of their race or national origin, they did not make a pretrial motion pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23 to have the action certified as a class action, and the District Court made no such certification. Respondents had stipulated before trial that they had [97 S.Ct. 1893] not been discriminated against when they were first hired, and that the only issue before the court was whether the company's failure to consider respondents' line driver applications violated Title VII, and their evidence and arguments at trial were confined to respondents' individual claims, with petitioners' defense showing that respondents were not qualified to be line drivers. The District Court following trial dismissed the class action allegations (stressing respondents' failure to move for class certification, their focus on individual claims, the lack of evidence, the stipulation, and the fact that a large majority of the union membership had recently rejected a proposal for the merger of

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city driver and line driver seniority lists with free transfer between jobs), and the individual claims (ruling that the challenged policies were neutrally applied, were proper business policies, and that respondents lacked line driver qualifications). The Court of Appeals reversed, discounting respondents' failure to move for certification ("a responsibility [that] falls to the court"), and the court itself certifying the class, after which it found classwide company and union liability on the basis of the proof adduced at trial. The trial court "lack of qualification" finding was not disturbed, the Court of Appeals ruling only that it was "premature" because each plaintiff as a member of the class would be entitled to have his application considered on the merits when future line driver vacancies arose.

Held: The Court of Appeals plainly erred in certifying a class action and in imposing classwide liability on petitioners. Pp. 403-406.

(a) The trial court proceedings made clear that respondents were not members of the class of discriminatees that they purported to represent, since there was abundant evidence that they were unqualified to be line drivers, which, in addition to the stipulation of each named plaintiff that he had not been discriminated against with respect to his initial employment, made them ineligible to represent a class of persons who did allegedly suffer injury or to attack the no-transfer rule and seniority system on the ground that these practices perpetuated past discrimination and locked minorities into the less desirable jobs to which they had been discriminatorily assigned. Pp. 403-404.

(b) The named plaintiffs' failure to protect the interest of class members by moving for certification strongly implies the inadequacy of the representation class members might receive. P. 405.

(c) The union vote against merging city driver and line driver seniority lists was at odds with respondents' demand for such a merger. P. 405.

505 F.2d 40 (Nos. 75-718, 75-651, and 75-715); 505 F.2d 66 and 69 (Nos. 75-651 and 75-715), vacated and remanded.

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

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases, like Teamsters v. United States, ante p. 324, involve alleged employment discrimination on the part of an employer and unions in the trucking industry. The employer, East Texas Motor Freight System, Inc., is a common carrier that employs city and over-the-road, or "line," truckdrivers. The company has a "no-transfer" policy, prohibiting drivers from transferring between terminals or from city driver to line driver jobs.1 In addition, under the applicable collective bargaining agreements between the company and the unions, competitive [97 S.Ct. 1894] seniority runs only from the date an employee enters a particular bargaining unit, so that a line driver's

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competitive seniority does not take into account any time he may have spent in other jobs with the company.2

The respondents brought this suit against the company and the unions in a Federal District Court, challenging the above practices. Although their complaint denominated the cause as a class action, they did not move for class certification in the trial court. After a two-day hearing, the court dismissed the class allegations of the complaint and decided against the individual respondents on the merits. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, after itself certifying what it considered an appropriate class and holding that the no-transfer rule and the seniority system violated the statutory rights of that class under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970 ed. and Supp. V). 505 F.2d 40. This Court granted certiorari to review the judgment of the Court of Appeals. 425 U.S. 990.

I

The respondents are three Mexican-Americans who initiated this litigation as the named plaintiffs, Jesse Rodriguez, Sadrach Perez, and Modesto Herrera. They were employed as city drivers at the company's San Antonio terminal, and were members of Teamsters Local Union 657 and of the Southern Conference of Teamsters. There was no line driver operation at the San Antonio terminal, and the respondents stipulated that they had not been discriminated against when they were first hired. In August, 1970, some years after they were hired, each of them applied in writing for a line driver job. In accord with its no-transfer policy, the company declined to consider these applications on their individual merits. The respondents then filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and after receiving

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"right to sue" letters from the Commission, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e), they brought this lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the suit was brought on behalf of the named plaintiffs and all Negroes and Mexican-Americans who had been denied equal employment opportunities with the company because of their race or national origin. The complaint specifically alleged that the appropriate class should consist of all

East Texas Motor Freight's Mexican-American and Black in-city drivers included in the collective bargaining agreement entered into between East Texas Motor Freight and the Southern Conference of Teamsters covering the State of Texas. Additionally that such class should properly be composed of all Mexican-American and Black applicants for line driver positions with East Texas Motor Freight . . . from July 2, 1965 [the effective date of Title VII] t present.3

Despite the class allegations in their complaint, the plaintiffs did not move prior to trial to have the action certified as a class action pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23, and no such certification was made by the [97 S.Ct. 1895] District Judge. Indeed, the plaintiffs had stipulated before trial that

"the only issue presently before the Court pertaining to the company is whether the failure of the Defendant East Texas Motor

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Freight to consider Plaintiffs' line driver applications constituted a violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981."

App. 82. And the plaintiffs confined their evidence and arguments at trial to their individual claims. The defendants responded accordingly, with much of their proof devoted to showing that Rodriguez, Perez, and Herrera were not qualified to be line drivers.

Following trial, the District Court dismissed the class action allegations. It stressed the plaintiffs' failure to move for a prompt determination of the propriety of class certification, their failure to offer evidence on that question, their concentration at the trial on their individual claims, their stipulation that the only issue to be determined concerned the company's failure to act on their applications, and the fact that, contrary to the relief the plaintiffs sought, see n. 3, supra, a large majority of the membership of Local 657 had recently rejected a proposal calling for the merger of city driver and line driver seniority lists with free transfer between jobs.4

The District Court also held against the named plaintiffs on their individual claims. It ruled that the no-transfer policy and the seniority system were proper business practices, neutrally applied, and that the company had not discriminated against the plaintiffs or retaliated against them for filing charges with the EEOC. The court further found:

None of the plaintiff employees could satisfy all of the qualifications for a road driver position according to the company manual due to age or weight or driving record. . . . The driving, work, and/or physical records of the plaintiffs are of such nature that only casual consideration need be given to determine that the plaintiffs cannot qualify to become road drivers.

App. 64.

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The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit...

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