482 U.S. 656 (1987), 85-1626, Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co.

Docket Nº:No. 85-1626
Citation:482 U.S. 656, 107 S.Ct. 2617, 96 L.Ed.2d 572, 55 U.S.L.W. 4881
Party Name:Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co.
Case Date:June 19, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 656

482 U.S. 656 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 2617, 96 L.Ed.2d 572, 55 U.S.L.W. 4881

Goodman

v.

Lukens Steel Co.

No. 85-1626

United States Supreme Court

June 19, 1987

Argued April 1, 1987

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In 1973, petitioners in No. 85-1626 (hereinafter petitioners), including individual employees of Lukens Steel Co. (Lukens), brought suit in Federal District Court against Lukens and the employees' collective bargaining agents (Unions), asserting racial discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The court held that Pennsylvania's 6-year statute of limitations governing contract claims applied to § 1981 claims, that Lukens had discriminated in certain respects, and that the Unions were also guilty of discriminatory practices in failing to challenge Lukens' discriminatory discharges of probationary employees, in failing and refusing to assert instances of racial discrimination as grievances, and in tolerating and tacitly encouraging racial harassment. The court entered injunctive orders against Lukens and the Unions, reserving damages issues for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals held that Pennsylvania's 2-year statute of limitations governing personal injury actions, rather than the 6-year statute, controlled the § 1981 claims, but affirmed the liability judgment against the Unions.

Held:

1. The Court of Appeals was correct in selecting the Pennsylvania 2-year limitations period governing personal injury actions as the most analogous state statute of limitations to govern all § 1981 suits. Section 1981 speaks not only to personal rights to contract, but also to personal rights to sue, to testify, and to equal rights under all laws for the security of persons and property; and all persons are to be subject to like punishments, taxes, and burdens of every kind. Cf. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261. The Court of Appeals also properly concluded that the 2-year statute should be applied retroactively to petitioners here, even though the court overruled its prior 1977 and 1978 decisions that refused to apply Pennsylvania's 2-year personal injury statute to the § 1981 claims involved in those cases. Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97, advises that nonretroactivity is appropriate in certain circumstances, including when the decision overrules clear Circuit precedent on which the complaining party is entitled to rely. However, until the Court of

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Appeals' 1977 decision, there had been no authoritative specification of which statute of limitations applied to an employee's § 1981 claims, and hence no clear precedent on which petitioners could have relied when they filed their complaint in 1973. As for the other Chevron factors, applying the 2-year statute here will not frustrate any federal law or result in inequity to the workers, who are charged with knowledge that it was an unsettled question as to how far back from the date of filing their complaint the damages period would reach. Pp. 660-664.

2. The courts below properly held that the Unions violated Title VII and § 1981. Because both courts agreed on the facts pertaining to whether the Unions had treated blacks and whites differently and intended to discriminate on the basis of race, this Court will not examine the record, absent the Unions' showing of extraordinary reasons for doing so. There is no merit to the Unions' contention that the judgment rests on the erroneous legal premise that Title VII and § 1981 are violated if a union passively sits by and does not affirmatively oppose the employer's racially discriminatory employment practices. In fact, both courts below concluded that the case against the Unions was one of more than mere acquiescence, in that the Unions deliberately chose not to assert claims of racial discrimination by the employer. Nor is there any merit to the argument that the only basis for Title VII liability was § 703(c)(3)'s prohibition against a union's causing or attempting to cause illegal discrimination by an employer, which was not supported by the record. Both courts found that the Unions had discriminated on the basis of race by the way in which they represented the workers, and the Court of Appeals held that the deliberate choice not to process grievances violated § 703(c)(1), the plain language of which supports such conclusion. Furthermore, the District Court properly rejected the Unions' explanation that, in order not to antagonize the employer, they did not include racial discrimination claims in grievances claiming other contract violations. A union that intentionally fails to assert discrimination claims, either to avoid antagonizing the employer, and thus to improve chances of success on other issues, or in deference to the desires of its white membership, is liable under both Title VII and § 1981, regardless of whether, as a subjective matter, its leaders are favorably disposed toward minorities. Pp. 664-669.

777 F.2d 113, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS, J., joined, in Part I of which POWELL and SCALIA, JJ., joined, and in Part II of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined,

Page 658

post, p. 669. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which SCALIA, J., joined, and in Parts I, II, III, and IV of which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 680. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, post p. 689.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1973, individual employees1 of Lukens Steel Company (Lukens) brought this suit on behalf of themselves and others, asserting racial discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.,2 [107 S.Ct. 2620] and 42 U.S.C.

Page 659

§ 19813 against their employer and their collective bargaining agents, the United Steelworkers of America and two of its local unions (Unions).4 After a bench trial, the District Court specified the periods for which Title VII claims could be litigated; it also reaffirmed a pretrial order that the Pennsylvania 6-year statute of limitations governing claims on contracts, replevin, and trespass5 applied to the § 1981 claims, and that claims with respect to the period after July 14, 1967, were accordingly not barred. On the merits, the District Court found that Lukens had discriminated in certain respects, but that, in others, plaintiffs had not made out a case.6 The District Court concluded that the Unions were also guilty of discriminatory practices, specifically in failing

Page 660

to challenge discriminatory discharges of probationary employees, failing and refusing to assert instances of racial discrimination as grievances, and in tolerating and tacitly encouraging racial harassment. 580 F.Supp. 1114 (ED Pa.1984). The District Court entered separate injunctive orders against Lukens and the Unions, reserving damages issues for further proceedings. Lukens and the Unions appealed, challenging the District Court's liability conclusions as well as its decision that the Pennsylvania 6-year statute of limitations, rather than the 2-year statute applicable to personal injuries, would measure the period of liability under § 1981.

The Court of Appeals, differing with the District Court, held that the 2-year statute of limitations controlled, but affirmed the liability judgment against the Unions. 777 F.2d 113 (CA3 1985).7 The employees' petition for certiorari in No. 85-1626 challenged the Court of Appeals' choice of the § 1981 limitations period. The Unions' petition in No. 852010 claimed error in finding them liable under Title VII and § 1981. We granted both petitions, 479 U.S. 982 (1986). We address in Part I the limitations issue in No. 85-1626 and the Unions' liability in Part II.

II

Because § 1981, like §§ 1982 and 1983, does not contain a statute of limitations, federal courts should select the most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266-268 (1985); Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 180-182 (1976); Johnson v. Railway Express Agency Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 462 (1975). In Wilson, the reach of which is at issue in this case, there were three

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[107 S.Ct. 2621] holdings: for the purpose of characterizing a claim asserted under § 1983, federal law, rather than state law, is controlling; a single state statute of limitations should be selected to govern all § 1983 suits; and because claims under § 1983 are in essence claims for personal injury, the state statute applicable to such claims should be borrowed. Petitioners in No. 85-1626 (hereafter petitioners), agree with the Court of Appeals that the first two Wilson holdings apply in § 1981 cases, but insist that the third does not. Their submission is that § 1981 deals primarily with economic rights, more specifically the execution and enforcement of contracts, and that the appropriate limitations period to borrow is the one applicable to suits for interference with contractual rights, which in Pennsylvania was six years.

The Court of Appeals properly rejected this submission. Section 1981 has a much broader focus than contractual rights. The section speaks not only of personal rights to contract, but personal rights to sue, to testify, and to equal rights under all laws for the security of persons and property; and all persons are to be subject to like punishments, taxes, and burdens of every kind. Section 1981 of the present Code was § 1977 of the Revised Statutes of 1874. Its heading was and is "Equal rights under the law," and is contained in a chapter entitled "Civil Rights." Insofar as it deals with...

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