Great American Federal Savings Loan Association v. Novotny

Decision Date11 June 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-753,78-753
Citation60 L.Ed.2d 957,442 U.S. 366,99 S.Ct. 2345
PartiesGREAT AMERICAN FEDERAL SAVINGS & LOAN ASSOCIATION et al., Petitioners, v. John R. NOVOTNY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

After respondent, a former officer, director, and loan officer of petitioner Great American Federal Savings and Loan Association (Association) received a right-to-sue letter upon filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he brought this suit against the Association and its directors in Federal District Court, alleging that the Association had intentionally embarked upon a course of conduct the effect of which was to deny to female employees equal employment opportunity; that when respondent expressed support for the female employees at a meeting of the board of directors, his connection with the Association abruptly ended; and that his support for the female employees was the cause of the termination of his employment. Respondent claimed damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (1976 ed., Supp. II), contending that he had been injured as the result of a conspiracy to deprive him of equal protection of, and equal privileges and immunities under, the laws. Section 1985(3) provides,inter alia, that a person so injured may have an action for damages against any one or more of the conspirators. The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss, holding that § 1985(3) could not be invoked because the directors of a single corporation cannot, as a matter of law and fact, engage in a conspiracy. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that conspiracies motivated by an invidious animus against women fall within § 1985(3), and that respondent, a male allegedly injured as a result of such a conspiracy, has standing to bring suit under that provision. The court further ruled that Title VII can be the source of a right asserted in a § 1985(3) action, and that intracorporate conspiracies come within the intendment of the section.

Held : Section 1985(3) may not be invoked to redress violations of Title VII. It creates no substantive rights itself but is a purely remedial statute, providing a civil cause of action when some otherwise defined federal right—to equal protection of the laws or equal privileges and immunities under the laws—is breached by a conspiracy in the manner defined by the section. Thus, the question in this case is whether rights created by Title VIIrespondent alleged that he was injured by a conspiracy to violate § 704(a) of Title VII, which makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee because he has opposed any employment practice made unlawful by Title VII or because he has participated in an investigation or proceeding under Title VII—may be asserted within the remedial framework of § 1985(3). If a violation of Title VII could be asserted through § 1985(3), a complainant could avoid most if not all of the detailed and specific provisions of Title VII, which provides a comprehensive plan of administrative and judicial process designed to provide an opportunity for nonjudicial and nonadversary resolution of claims. Perhaps most importantly, the complainant could completely bypass the administrative process, which plays such a crucial role in the scheme established by Congress in Title VII. Unimpaired effectiveness can be given to the plan of Title VII only by holding that deprivation of a right created by Title VII cannot be the basis for a cause of action under § 1985(3). Cf. Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402. Pp. 370-378.

3 Cir., 584 F.2d 1235, vacated and remanded.

Eugene K. Connors, Pittsburgh, Pa., for petitioners.

Stanley M. Stein, Pittsburgh, Pa., for respondent.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D. C., for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

More than a century after their passage, the Civil Rights Acts of the Reconstruction Era continue to present difficult problems of statutory construction. Cf. Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 99 S.Ct. 1905, 60 L.Ed.2d 508. In the case now before us, we consider the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (1976 ed., Supp. II), the surviving version of § 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871.1

I

The respondent, John R. Novotny, began his career with the Great American Federal Savings and Loan Association (hereinafter Association) in Allegheny County, Pa., in 1950. By 1975, he was secretary of the Association, a member of its board of directors, and a loan officer. According to the allegations of the complaint in this case the Association "intentionally and deliberately embarked upon and pursued a course of conduct the effect of which was to deny to female employees equal employment opportunity . . . ." When Novotny expressed support for the female employees at a meeting of the board of directors, his connection with the Association abruptly ended. He was not re-elected as secretary; he was not re-elected to the board; and he was fired. His support for the Association's female employees, he alleges, was the cause of the termination of his employment.

Novotny filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.2 After receiving a right-to-sue letter,3 he brought this lawsuit against the Association and its directors in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. He claimed damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (1976 ed., Supp. II), contending that he had been injured as the result of a conspiracy to deprive him of equal protection of and equal privileges and immunities under the laws.4 The District Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. It held that § 1985(3) could not be invoked because the directors of a single corporation could not, as a matter of law and fact, engage in a conspiracy. 430 F.Supp. 227, 230.5

Novotny appealed. After oral argument before a three-judge panel, the case was reargued before the en banc Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which unanimously reversed the District Court's judgment. 584 F.2d 1235. The Court of Appeals ruled that Novotny had stated a cause of action under § 1985(3). It held that conspiracies motivated by an invidious animus against women fall within § 1985(3), and that Novotny, a male allegedly injured as a result of such a conspiracy, had standing to bring suit under that statutory provision. It ruled that Title VII could be the source of a right asserted in an action under § 1985(3), and that intracorporate conspiracies come within the intendment of the section. Finally, the court concluded that its construction of § 1985(3) did not present any serious constitutional problem.6

We granted certiorari, 439 U.S. 1066, 99 S.Ct. 830, 59 L.Ed.2d 30, to consider the applicability of § 1985(3) to the facts alleged in Novotny's complaint.

II

The legislative history of § 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, of which § 1985(3) was originally a part, has been reviewed many times in this Court.7 The section as first en- acted authorized both criminal and civil actions against those who have conspired to deprive others of federally guaranteed rights. Before the 19th century ended, however, the Court found the criminal provisions of the statute unconstitutional because they exceeded the scope of congressional power, United States v. Harris, 106 U.S. 629, 1 S.Ct. 601, 27 L.Ed. 290; Baldwin v. Franks, 120 U.S. 678, 7 S.Ct. 656, 32 L.Ed. 766, and the provisions thus invalidated were later formally repealed by Congress. The civil action provided by the Act remained, but for many years was rarely, if ever, invoked.

The provisions of what is now § 1985(3) were not fully considered by this Court until 1951, in the case of Collins v. Hardyman, 341 U.S. 651, 71 S.Ct. 937, 95 L.Ed. 1253.8 There the Court concluded that the section protected citizens only from injuries caused by conspiracies "under color of state law." 9 Twenty years later, in Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 91 S.Ct. 1790, 29 L.Ed.2d 338, the Court unanimously concluded that the Collins Court had accorded to the provisions of § 1985(3) too narrow a scope.10 The fears concerning congressional power that had motivated the Court in theCollins case had been dissolved by intervening cases. See Griffin v. Breckenridge, supra, at 96-97, 104-106, 91 S.Ct., at 1795, 1799-1800. Therefore, the Court found that § 1985(3) did provide a cause of action for damages caused by purely private conspiracies.

The Court's opinion in Griffin discerned the following criteria for measuring whether a complaint states a cause of action under § 1985(3):

"To come within the legislation a complaint must allege that the defendants did (1) 'conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another' (2) 'for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws.' It must then assert that one or more of the conspirators (3) did, or caused to be done, 'any act in furtherance of the object of [the] conspiracy,' whereby another was (4a) 'injured in his person of property' or (4b) 'deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States.' " 403 U.S., at 102-103, 91 S.Ct. at 1798-1799.

Section 1985(3) provides no substantive rights itself; it merely provides a remedy for violation of the rights it designates. The primary question in the present case, therefore, is whether a person injured by a conspiracy to violate § 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is deprived of "the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws" within the meaning of § 1985(3).11

Under Title VII, cases of alleged employment discrimination are subject to a detailed administrative...

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