432 U.S. 385 (1977), 76-545, United Airlines, Inc. v. McDonald

Docket Nº:No. 76-545
Citation:432 U.S. 385, 97 S.Ct. 2464, 53 L.Ed.2d 423
Party Name:United Airlines, Inc. v. McDonald
Case Date:June 20, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 385

432 U.S. 385 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 2464, 53 L.Ed.2d 423

United Airlines, Inc.

v.

McDonald

No. 76-545

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1977

Argued March 29, 1977

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Claiming that petitioner United Airlines had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requiring stewardesses, though not stewards, to remain unmarried [97 S.Ct. 2465] as an employment condition, one Romasanta, a stewardess who had been discharged by petitioner because of her marriage, brought this Title VII suit as a class action on behalf of herself and all other United stewardesses discharged because of the no-marriage rule. The District Court ruled that only those stewardesses who, upon discharge because of marriage, had filed charges under either a fair employment statute or United's collective bargaining agreement constituted the class, and because that class was too small to satisfy the numerosity requirement of Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23(a)(1), the court granted United's motion to strike the complaint's class allegations, but allowed 12 married stewardesses who had protested their discharge to intervene as additional parties plaintiff. The District Court certified for appeal its order striking the class allegations, but the Court of Appeals declined to accept the interlocutory appeal. The litigation proceeded as a joint suit on behalf of the original and intervening plaintiffs, and the District Court ultimately determined that the plaintiffs were entitled to reinstatement and backpay and, following agreement by the parties on the amounts to be awarded each plaintiff, the court entered a judgment of dismissal. After learning of the Romasanta judgment and that, despite their earlier attempt to do so, the plaintiffs in that case did not plan to appeal the order denying class certification, respondent, a former United stewardess who had been discharged on account of the no-marriage rule and was thus a putative member of the Romasanta class and who had not filed charges or a grievance, filed, 18 days after the judgment (and therefore within the applicable appeal period) a motion to intervene for the purpose of appealing the adverse class determination order. The District Court denied intervention, from which denial as well as the denial of class certification respondent appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed on the intervention denial as well as on the refusal to certify the class described in Romasanta's complaint -- a class consisting of all United stewardesses discharged

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because of the no-marriage rule, whether or not they had formally protested their discharge. Petitioner challenges the Court of Appeals' ruling that respondent's post-judgment intervention was timely under this Court's ruling in American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, which held that

the commencement of the original class suit tolls the running of the statute [of limitations] for all purported members of the class who make timely motions to intervene after the court has found the suit inappropriate for class action status.

Petitioner argues that, under American Pipe, the relevant statute of limitations began to run after the denial of certification in Romasanta.

Held: Respondent's motion to intervene was "timely" filed under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 24, and should have been granted. Respondent sought to intervene not to litigate her individual claim based on the illegality of United's no-marriage rule (which would have put her in the same position as the American Pipe intervenors), but to obtain appellate review of the District Court's denial of the class action status in Romasanta. The critical question is whether respondent as intervenor acted promptly after entry of the final judgment in Romasanta. The District Court's refusal to certify the class was subject to appellate review after final judgment, and since the named plaintiffs had tried to take an interlocutory appeal, respondent had no reason to suppose that they would not later take an appeal until she was advised to the contrary after the trial court had entered its final judgment. Thus, as soon as it became clear that the interests of the unnamed class members would no longer be protected by the named class representatives, and within the applicable appeal period, respondent moved to protect those interests. Pp. 391-396.

537 F.2d 915, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 396. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Federal Rule Civ.Proc. 24 requires that an application to intervene in federal litigation must be "timely." In this case a motion to intervene was filed promptly after the final judgment of a District Court, for the purpose of appealing the court's earlier denial of class action certification. The question presented is whether this motion was "timely" under Rule 24.

Until November 7, 1968, United Airlines required its female stewardesses to remain unmarried as a condition of employment; no parallel restriction was imposed on any male employees, including male stewards and cabin flight attendants.1 This "no-marriage rule" resulted in the termination of the employment of a large number of stewardesses, and in turn spawned a good deal of litigation.

One of the first challenges to this rule was brought by Mary Sprogis, who filed timely charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August, 1966, contending that her discharge constituted sex discrimination in violation of 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). The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that United's policy was illegal, and issued a "right to sue letter."2 Sprogis then filed a timely individual action in a Federal District Court, and the court agreed that the no-marriage rule violated

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Title VII. 308 F.Supp. 959 (ND Ill.). United took an interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) on the issue of liability, and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the finding of sex discrimination. Sprogis v. United Air Lines, Inc., 444 F.2d 1194.

While the appeal in the Sprogis case was pending, the present action was filed in the same District Court by Carole Romasanta, a United stewardess who had been discharged in 1967 because of her marriage. She, too, had filed charges with the EEOC, leading to a finding of cause to believe that the no-marriage rule violated Title VII and the issuance of a right-to-sue letter. Romasanta then promptly filed the present suit as a class action on behalf of herself and all other United stewardesses discharged because of the no-marriage rule. Another United stewardess was later permitted to intervene as a named plaintiff.

Several months later, the District Court granted United's motion to strike the complaint's class allegations, ruling that the class could properly consist of only those stewardesses who, upon the loss of their employment because of marriage, had filed charges under either a fair employment statute or United's collective bargaining agreement. As thus defined, the class numbered not more than 30, and, in the court's view, did not satisfy the numerosity requirement of Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23(a)(1).3 As part of its order, however, the District Court allowed 12 married stewardesses who had protested the termination of their employment to intervene as additional parties [97 S.Ct. 2467] plaintiff. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), the District Court certified for appeal its order striking the class allegations, but the Court of Appeals declined to accept this interlocutory appeal.4

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The litigation proceeded as a joint suit on behalf of the original and the intervening plaintiffs, and the court ultimately determined that those plaintiffs not yet reinstated in their jobs were entitled to that remedy, and that every plaintiff was entitled to backpay. To aid in determining the amount of each backpay award, the court appointed as a Special Master the same person who had performed a similar task in the Sprogis litigation.5 Following guidelines adopted in Sprogis, the parties eventually agreed upon the amounts to be awarded each plaintiff, and upon consummation of this agreement the trial court entered a judgment of dismissal on October 3, 1975.

The specific controversy before us arose only after the entry of that judgment. The respondent, a former United stewardess, had been discharged in 1968 on account of the no-marriage rule. She was thus a putative member of the class as defined in the original Romasanta complaint. Knowing that other stewardesses had challenged United's no-marriage rule, she had not filed charges with the EEOC or a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement.6

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After learning that a final judgment had been entered in the Romasanta suit, and that, despite their earlier attempt to do so, the plaintiffs did not now intend to file a appeal challenging the District Court's denial of class certification, she filed a motion to intervene for the purpose of appealing the District Court's adverse class determination order. Her motion was filed 18 days after the District Court's final judgment, and thus was well within the 30-day period for an appeal to be taken.7 The District Judge denied the motion, stating:

Well, in my judgment, gentlemen, this is five years now this has been in litigation, and this lady has not seen fit to come in here and seek any...

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