General Telephone Company of Southwest v. Falcon

Citation457 U.S. 147,72 L.Ed.2d 740,102 S.Ct. 2364
Decision Date14 June 1982
Docket NumberNo. 81-574,81-574
PartiesGENERAL TELEPHONE COMPANY OF the SOUTHWEST, Petitioner v. Mariano S. FALCON
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

After being denied a promotion by petitioner employer, respondent Mexican-American filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that he had been passed over for promotion because of his national origin and that petitioner's promotion policy operated against Mexican-Americans as a class. Subsequently, respondent received a right-to-sue letter from the Commission, and he then brought a class action in Federal District Court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the District Court certified a class consisting of Mexican-American employees of petitioner and Mexican-American applicants who had not been hired. As to liability, the court held that petitioner had discriminated against respondent in its promotion practices but not in its hiring practices, and with respect to the class found that petitioner had discriminated against Mexican-Americans in its hiring practices but not in its promotion practices. Both parties appealed, and the Court of Appeals, rejecting petitioner's argument that the class had been defined too broadly, held that the District Court's class certification was proper under the Fifth Circuit's rule permitting any victim of racial discrimination in employment to maintain an "across-the-board" attack on all unequal employment practices allegedly followed by the employer pursuant to a policy of racial discrimination. On the merits, the Court of Appeals upheld respondent's promotion claim, but held that the District Court's findings were insufficient to support recovery on behalf of the class. Subsequently, this Court vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207. The Court of Appeals then vacated its judgment as to respondent's promotion claim but reinstated its approval of the District Court's class certification.

Held: The District Court erred in permitting respondent to maintain a class action on behalf of both employees who were denied promotion and applicants who were denied employment. Pp. 155-161.

(a) An individual litigant seeking to maintain a class action under Title VII must meet Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)'s specified "prerequisites of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation." General Telephone Co. v. EEOC, 446 U.S. 318, 330, 100 S.Ct. 1698, 1706, 64 L.Ed.2d 319. These requirements effectively "limit the class claims to those fairly encompassed by the named plaintiff's claim." Ibid. P. 155-157.

(b) There can be no disagreement with the proposition underlying the Fifth Circuit's "across-the-board" rule—that racial discrimination is by definition class discrimination. But the allegation that such discrimination has occurred neither determines whether a class action may be maintained in accordance with Rule 23 nor determines the class that may be certified. Here, to bridge the gap between respondent's promotion claim and the existence of a class of persons who have suffered the same injury as respondent—so that respondent's claim and the class claims share common questions of law or fact and respondent's claim is typical of the class claims—respondent must prove much more than the validity of his own claim. Respondent's complaint provided an insufficient basis for concluding that the adjudication of his claim would require the decision of any common question concerning petitioner's failure to hire more Mexican-Americans. Without any specific presentation identifying the questions of law or fact that were common to the claims of respondent and of the class members he sought to represent, it was error for the District Court to presume that respondent's claim was typical of other claims against petitioner by Mexican-American employees and applicants. Pp. 157-159.

(c) As the District Court's bifurcated findings on liability demonstrate, the individual and class claims might as well have been tried separately. Thus, it is clear that the maintenance of the action as a class action did not advance "the efficiency and economy of litigation which is a principal purpose of the procedure." American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 553, 94 S.Ct. 756, 766, 38 L.Ed.2d 713. P. 159.

(d) The District Court's error, and the error inherent in the "across-the-board" rule, is the failure to evaluate carefully the legitimacy of the named plaintiff's plea that he is a proper class representative under Rule 23(a). P. 160

5th Cir., 647 F.2d 633, reversed and remanded.

Noyes Thompson Powers, Washington, D. C., for petitioner.

Frank P. Hernandez, Dallas, Tex., for respondent.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether respondent Falcon, who complained that petitioner did not promote him because he is a Mexican-American, was properly permitted to maintain a class action on behalf of Mexican-American applicants for employment whom petitioner did not hire.

I

In 1969 petitioner initiated a special recruitment and training program for minorities. Through that program, respondent Falcon was hired in July 1969 as a groundman, and within a year he was twice promoted, first to lineman and then to lineman-in-charge. He subsequently refused a promotion to installer-repairman. In October 1972 he applied for the job of field inspector; his application was denied even though the promotion was granted several white employees with less seniority.

Falcon thereupon filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating his belief that he had been passed over for promotion because of his national origin and that petitioner's promotion policy operated against Mexican-Americans as a class. Falcon v. General Telephone Co. of Southwest, 626 F.2d 369, 372, n. 2 (CA5 1980). In due course he received a right-to-sue letter from the Commission and, in April 1975, he commenced this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp.IV), in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. His complaint alleged that petitioner maintained "a policy, practice, custom, or usage of: (a) discriminating against [Mexican-Americans] because of national origin and with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, and (b) . . . subjecting [Mexican-Americans] to continuous employment discrimination." 1 Respondent claimed that as a result of this policy whites with less qualification and experience and lower evaluation scores than respondent had been promoted more rapidly. The complaint contained no factual allegations concerning petitioner's hiring practices.

Respondent brought the action "on his own behalf and on behalf of other persons similarly situated, pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." 2 The class identified in the complaint was "composed of Mexican-American persons who are employed, or who might be employed, by GENERAL TELEPHONE COMPANY at its place of business located in Irving, Texas, who have been and who continue to be or might be adversely affected by the practices complained of herein." 3

After responding to petitioner's written interrogatories,4 respondent filed a memorandum in favor of certification of "the class of all hourly Mexican American employees who have been employed, are employed, or may in the future be employed and all those Mexican-Americans who have applied or would have applied for employment had the Defendant not practiced racial discrimination in its employment practices." App. 46-47. His position was supported by the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 417 F.2d 1122 (1969), that any victim of racial discrimination in employment may maintain an "across the board" attack on all unequal employment practices alleged to have been committed by the employer pursuant to a policy of racial discrimination. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the District Court certified a class including Mexican-American employees and Mexican-American applicants for employment who had not been hired.5

Following trial of the liability issues, the District Court entered separate findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect first to respondent and then to the class. The District Court found that petitioner had not discriminated against respondent in hiring, but that it did discriminate against him in its promotion practices. App. to Pet. for Cert. 35a, 37a. The court reached converse conclusions about the class, finding no discrimination in promotion practices, but concluding that petitioner had discriminated against Mexican-Americans at its Irving facility in its hiring practices. Id., at 39a-40a.6

After various post-trial proceedings, the District Court ordered petitioner to furnish respondent with a list of all Mexican-Americans who had applied for employment at the Irving facility during the period between January 1, 1973, and October 18, 1976. Respondent was then ordered to give notice to those persons advising them that they might be entitled to some form of recovery. Evidence was taken concerning the applicants who responded to the notice, and backpay was ultimately awarded to 13 persons, in addition to respondent Falcon. The total recovery by respondent and the entire class amounted to $67,925.49, plus costs and interest.7

Both parties appealed. The Court of Appeals rejected respondent's contention that the class should have encompassed all of petitioner's operations in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.8 On the other hand, the court also rejected petiti...

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