Graniteville Co.(Sibley Div.) v. Equal Employ. Op. Com'n

Decision Date05 February 1971
Docket NumberNo. 14012.,14012.
Citation438 F.2d 32
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit


David W. Zugschwerdt, Atty., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Russell Specter, Acting Gen. Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, on brief), for appellant.

William B. Paul, Atlanta, Ga. (James F. Smith, J. Lewis Sapp, and Constangy & Prowell, Atlanta, Ga., Julian B. Salley, Jr., and Henderson, Salley, Cushman & Bodenheimer, Aiken, S. C., on brief), for appellee.

Before SOBELOFF, BOREMAN and CRAVEN, Circuit Judges.

SOBELOFF, Circuit Judge:

This case arises under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Appellee Graniteville Company, Sibley Division, petitioned the District Court to set aside a "Demand for Access to Evidence" served by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Commission cross-petitioned for enforcement of its Demand and now appeals from the Order, 316 F.Supp. 1177, setting the Demand aside.

On February 12, 1968, the EEOC received an unsworn charge of discrimination against Graniteville from Edward Price and James C. Walker, two Negro employees of the company's Sibley Division in Augusta, Georgia. A formal, sworn charge was perfected on March 26, 1968, by Price with the assistance of an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer. In substance that charge alleged that (1) Negroes are discriminated against in promotion policies; (2) Negroes are harassed, placed in fear of job loss, and subjected to different conditions than white employees; (3) concession stands, locker and toilet facilities are segregated on the basis of race; (4) Negroes are hired for traditionally Negro jobs.1

The EEOC undertook an investigation of Price's charge and requested Graniteville to make available certain documentary materials. Much of the evidence sought was supplied over the next several months. By a letter dated July 12, 1968, however, Graniteville declined to supply further information requested by the EEOC. The Commission then served Graniteville with a Demand for Access to Evidence seeking three items of documentary evidence: (1) the key to a number code indicating the department and job classification assignments of all employees of the Sibley Mill as used in a computer list supplied to the EEOC on June 4, 1968; (2) a list showing the date of hire of all employees on the computer list hired subsequent to July 1, 1965; (3) a list showing the job into which each employee on the computer list had been initially hired at the Sibley Mill.

The response of the company was to file a Petition to Set Aside the Demand.2 After the EEOC cross-petitioned for enforcement, the court held several hearings on the petitions, requiring Price and his attorney to be present at the last hearing in order that the court might determine whether he was "aggrieved" in the terms of the Act. Price's attendance was required by the court over the objection of the EEOC. The court granted the Petition to Set Aside the Demand on the grounds that (1) Price is not a person claiming to be aggrieved under the Act and therefore does not have standing to initiate Commission proceedings, (2) the charge was invalid for failure to set forth the facts upon which it was based, and (3) the information sought by the EEOC was beyond the scope of the Commission's investigatory powers and irrelevant to the investigation of the charge. Disagreeing with these conclusions, we reverse and remand.

I. Standing to Initiate Commission Proceedings

Graniteville argues, and the court below held, that Price is not an aggrieved party because he did not reveal any particular manner in which he personally was aggrieved. Yet his charge filed with the EEOC indicates that he has been discriminated against because of his race, that the company maintains racial classifications of jobs, fails to promote members of Price's race or give them the consideration for better jobs that white employees receive, and that members of his race are harassed, placed in fear of losing employment, and relegated to the use of segregated concession stands and locker and toilet facilities. These allegations are more than sufficient to establish standing in Price to initiate Commission proceedings.

A. Standards for a Valid Charge

We do not deny the proposition put forth by Graniteville that the EEOC is without jurisdiction to proceed in the absence of a valid charge. See Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Union Bank, 408 F.2d 867 (9th Cir. 1969). However, the statute quite clearly requires only that a charge be filed "by a person claiming to be aggrieved" by an employer, employment agency, or labor organization engaged in an unlawful employment practice, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (emphasis added). When an individual fills out an EEOC form entitled "Charge of Discrimination," checks a box indicating discrimination because of "Race or Color," names a respondent in answer to the question "Who discriminated against you?", indicates "The most recent date on which this discrimination took place," and alleges the existence of racially discriminatory employment practices in response to the instruction "Explain what unfair thing was done to you," we think it plain enough that he is claiming to be aggrieved within the statutory meaning of Title VII.

The EEOC is correct in its position that, in the context of Demand enforcement proceedings, "Title VII contains no provision authorizing a general inquiry into the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a charge," as the court below undertook in this case. The EEOC in its investigation is seeking only to determine the existence of reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(a). In conducting hearings into the aggrieved status of the charging party the court required the EEOC to make a reasonable cause showing as a prerequisite to enforcement of the Commission Demand issued in the course of an investigation designed to determine the existence of reasonable cause. That is not only to place the cart before the horse, but to substitute a different driver for the one appointed by Congress. The statutory standard to be applied in a Demand enforcement proceeding is one of relevancy and materiality, not one of reasonable cause to believe the charge is true. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-9(a).

Such judicial hearings into the merits of the charging party's allegations also frustrate congressional intent by entailing extensive delay in the disposition of Title VII cases. We have previously noted that there can be no doubt "that Congress intended the remedies provided to be timely and effective." Johnson v. Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company, 405 F.2d 645, 651 (4th Cir. 1968). More than a year elapsed between the filing of Graniteville's petition and the granting of the Order setting aside the Demand for Evidence. Such delays are clearly to be avoided if possible and are not justified by examinations into the aggrieved status of the charging party during Demand enforcement proceedings.

B. The Title VII "Aggrieved" Party

The court also erred in holding that Price was not claiming to be aggrieved because his charge did not "reveal any particulars" in which he was aggrieved. Employer unlawful employment practices include discrimination on the basis of race "against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" and classifying employees on the basis of race "in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee."3

If, as alleged, Graniteville discriminates on the basis of race in making job assignments, promoting employees, and operating the facilities it provides for the benefit of its employees, Price unquestionably is being classified in a manner and subjected to terms and conditions of employment which violate the prohibitions of Title VII. Proof of the allegations contained in Price's charge would as effectively establish violations of the Act and affirm Price's status as an aggrieved party as if the alleged practices were written into Price's employment contract as avowed terms and conditions of employment. Judge Gray of the Middle District of Tennessee expressed the controlling principle well in Hall v. Werthan Bag Corp., 251 F.Supp. 184, 186 (M.D.Tenn.1966):

Racial discrimination is by definition a class discrimination. If it exists, it applies throughout the class. This does not mean, however, that the effects of the discrimination will always be felt equally by all the members of the racial class. * * * But although the actual effects of a discriminatory policy may thus vary throughout the class, the existence of the discriminatory policy threatens the entire class. And whether the Damoclean threat of a racially discriminatory policy hangs over the racial class is a question of fact common to all the members of the class.

It is for just this reason that a Title VII suit alleging a discriminatory promotion policy is not mooted by the plaintiff's acceptance of a promotion from the defendant subsequent to filing suit. Jenkins v. United Gas Corp., 400 F.2d 28 (5th Cir. 1968). Noting that under the Title VII structure enforcement of nondiscrimination in employment is left largely to private action, the Fifth Circuit rejected the mootness argument on the grounds that "whether in name or not, the suit is perforce a sort of class action for fellow employees similarly situated." Id. at 33. The logic of that decision is pertinent here. Under Graniteville's reasoning the party would no longer be aggrieved after accepting the promotion, would no longer have standing to file a charge with the EEOC, and therefore would no longer be entitled to maintain a Title VII suit against his...

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