455 U.S. 385 (1982), 78-1545, Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 78-1545
Citation:455 U.S. 385, 102 S.Ct. 1127, 71 L.Ed.2d 234
Party Name:Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.
Case Date:February 24, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 385

455 U.S. 385 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 1127, 71 L.Ed.2d 234

Zipes

v.

Trans World Airlines, Inc.

No. 78-1545

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1982

Argued December 2, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In 1970, the union then representing flight attendants employed by respondent Trans World Airlines, Inc. (TWA), brought a federal court class action alleging that TWA practiced unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by its policy of grounding all female flight attendants who became mothers while their male counterparts who became fathers were permitted to continue flying. Subsequently, individual members of the class (petitioners in No. 78-1545) were appointed as class representatives to replace the union, which was found to be an inadequate representative. The District Court later denied TWA's motion to exclude class members who had not filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within the time limit specified in Title VII, holding that, while such filing requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite not subject to waiver, any violation by TWA continued against all the class members until TWA changed its challenged policy. The court also granted the plaintiff class' motion for summary judgment on the issue of TWA's liability for violating Title VII. The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment and held that timely filing of EEOC charges was a jurisdictional prerequisite, but declined to extend the "continuing violation" theory so as to include in the plaintiff class those terminated employees who failed to file timely EEOC charges. However, the court stayed its mandate pending the filing of petitions in this Court, which, in turn, deferred consideration of the petitions pending completion of settlement proceedings in the District Court. In such proceedings, the District Court designated two subclasses: Subclass A, consisting of women who were terminated on or after March 20, 1970, and those who were discharged earlier but who had accepted reinstatement in ground positions, and Subclass B, consisting of all other members of the class, whose claims the Court of Appeals had found to be jurisdictionally barred for failure to satisfy the timely filing requirement. The flight attendants'

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current union [102 S.Ct. 1129] (petitioner in No. 80-951) was permitted to intervene and object to the proposed settlement. On the basis of the Court of Appeals' stay of its mandate in its jurisdictional decision, the District Court rejected the union's challenge to its jurisdiction over Subclass B. It also approved the settlement and awarded restoration of retroactive seniority. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the union's contention that, because of the Court of Appeals' earlier opinion, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to approve the settlement or to order retroactive seniority with respect to Subclass B.

Held:

1. Filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit in federal court, but a requirement that, like a statute of limitations, is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling. The structure of Title VII, the congressional policy underlying it, and the reasoning of this Court's prior cases all lead to this conclusion. Pp. 392-398.

2. The District Court had authority to award retroactive seniority to the members of Subclass B as well as Subclass A. Pp. 398-401.

(a) The union's contention in No. 80-951 that there was no finding of discrimination with respect to Subclass B, and thus no predicate for relief under § 706(g) of Title VII is without merit. The District Court found unlawful discrimination against the plaintiff class as a whole, at a time when the class had not yet been divided into the two subclasses, and the court's summary judgment ran in favor of the entire class. Since the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the District Court had no jurisdiction over claims by those who had not met the filing requirement, and that those individuals should have been excluded from the class prior to the grant of summary judgment, there was no jurisdictional barrier to the District Court's finding of discrimination with respect to the entire class. Pp. 398-399.

(b) Equally meritless is the union's contention that retroactive seniority contrary to the collective bargaining agreement should not be awarded over the objection of a union that has not itself been found guilty of discrimination. Class-based seniority relief for identifiable victims of illegal discrimination is a form of relief generally appropriate under § 706(g). And, as made clear in Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, once there has been a finding of discrimination by the employer, an award of retroactive seniority is appropriate even if there is no finding that the union has also illegally discriminated. Pp. 399-400.

No. 78-1545, 582 F.2d 1142, reversed; No. 80-951, 630 F.2d 1164, affirmed.

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WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in part, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 401. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The primary question in these cases is whether the statutory time limit for filing charges under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970 ed.) is a jurisdictional prerequisite to a suit in the District Court. Secondarily, we resolve a dispute as to whether retroactive seniority was a proper remedy in these Title VII cases.

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I

In 1970, the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association (ALSSA), then the collective bargaining agent of Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight attendants, brought a class action alleging that TWA practiced unlawful sex discrimination in violation of [102 S.Ct. 1130] Title VII by its policy of grounding all female flight cabin attendants who became mothers, while their male counterparts who became fathers were permitted to continue flying. After collective bargaining eliminated the challenged practice prospectively, the parties in the case reached a tentative settlement. The settlement, which provided neither backpay nor retroactive seniority, was approved by the District Court. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, however, found the union to be an inadequate representative of the class because of the inherent conflict between the interests of current and former employees. It remanded the case with instructions that the District Court name individual members of the class to replace ALSSA as the class representative.1 Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Assn. v. American Airlines, Inc., 490 F.2d 636 (1973).

Upon remand, petitioners in No. 71545 were appointed as class representatives. TWA moved to amend its answer to assert that the claims of plaintiffs and other class members were barred by Title VII's "statute of limitations" because they had failed to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within the statutory time

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limit. 1 App. 89a.2 Although the District Court granted the motion to amend, it noted that the "delay in pleading the defense of limitations may well ultimately constitute a waiver of the defense." Id. at 101a.

Subsequently, on October 15, 1976, the District Court denied TWA's motion to exclude class members who had not filed timely charges with the EEOC. In support of its motion, TWA argued that, instead of an affirmative defense analogous to a statute of limitations, timely filing with the EEOC is a jurisdictional prerequisite not subject to waiver by any action of the defendants. While the District Court agreed that the filing requirements of Title VII are jurisdictional, it denied the motion on the basis that any violation by the airline continued against all the class members until the airline changed the challenged policy. Id. at 131a-132a. On October 19, 1976, the District Court granted the motion of the plaintiff class for summary judgment on the issue of TWA's liability for violating Title VII. Id. at 133a-134a.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of October 18, 1976, granting summary judgment on liability, expressly holding that "TWA's no motherhood policy . . . provides a clear example of sex discrimination prohibited by § 2000e-2(a)." In re Consolidated Petrial Proceedings in the Airline Cases, 582 F.2d 1142, 1145 (1978). It declined, however,

to extend the continuing violation theory, as did the district court, so as to include in the plaintiff class those employees who were permanently terminated more than 90 days before the filing of EEOC charges.

Id. at 1149.

The Court of Appeals went on to hold that timely filing of EEOC charges was a jurisdictional prerequisite. Because TWA could not waive the timely filing requirement, the

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Court of Appeals found that approximately 92% of the plaintiffs' claims were jurisdictionally barred by the failure of those plaintiffs to have filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC within 90 days of the alleged unlawful employment practice. The Court of Appeals, however, stayed its mandate pending the filing of petitions in this Court. Petitions for certiorari were filed by the plaintiff class, No. 78-1545, [102 S.Ct. 1131] and by TWA, No. 78-1549. This Court granted motions to defer consideration of the petitions pending completion of settlement proceedings in the District Court. 442 U.S. 916 (1979).

In connection with the settlement proceedings, the District Court...

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