Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 78-1365

Decision Date01 October 1980
Docket NumberNo. 78-1365,78-1365
Citation642 F.2d 578
Parties23 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1628, 24 Wage & Hour Cas. (BN 1012, 24 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 31,288, 206 U.S.App.D.C. 173, 89 Lab.Cas. P 33,933 Mary P. LAFFEY et al., v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Appellant, Air Line Pilots Association, Non-Aligned Party.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Philip A. Lacovara, Washington, D. C., with whom Peter M. Kreindler, Gerald Goldman, Washington, D. C., Robert L. Deitz, Washington, D. C., David J. Ranheim and Henry Halladay, Minneapolis, Minn., were on the brief, for appellant.

Michael H. Gottesman, Washington, D. C., with whom George H. Cohen, Robert M. Weinberg and Julia Penny Clark, Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellees.

Mary-Helen Mautner, Atty., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, D. C., with whom Beatrice Rosenberg, Asst. Gen. Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, amicus curiae, urging affirmance. Issie L. Jenkins, Atty., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, D. C., also entered an appearance for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, amicus curiae.

Donald S. Shire, Associate Sol., U. S. Dept. of Labor, Washington, D. C., was on the brief for the Secretary of Labor, amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

Before WRIGHT, Chief Judge, ROBINSON, Circuit Judge, and RICHEY *, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III.


Northwest Airlines, Inc. (NWA), appeals from an order of the District Court denying its motion for modification of a continuing injunction. 1 The injunction effectuates part of the relief awarded by the District Court in 1974 2 to female cabin attendants in redress of violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 3 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 4 Our review leads us to conclude that the denial of NWA's motion rests partially on an overbroad reading of the Equal Pay Act-a general interpretation to which this court succumbed on a prior appeal. 5 We believe that it would be inappropriate, though, in the situation before us to deviate from the law of the case enunciated in our previous decision. 6 Even were this not so, however, we would still be constrained to reaffirm our former conclusion. Although we have determined that our prior analysis was faulty in some respects, we find that it leads us to the proper result since the construction we earlier gave the Equal Pay Act, to which the District Court adhered, is required on the special facts of this case. 7 We accordingly affirm.

A. The District Court's Dispositions

In the original proceeding, the District Court made extensive factual findings, articulated its legal conclusions and specified the relief it deemed warranted. 8 The highlights of the litigation's history, as thus established, may usefully be recounted in order to elucidate the background of the present controversy.

For many years, NWA maintained a gender-based job classification scheme resulting in employment of most male cabin attendants as pursers and all female cabin attendants save one as stewardesses. 9 Pursers and stewardesses performed tasks requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility, 10 but pursers were paid substantially higher salaries than stewardesses with equivalent seniority. 11 From 1967 onward, NWA in theory allowed female cabin attendants to bid for openings in the purser classification, but women could not effectively utilize that apparent opportunity. They were required to start at the bottom of the purser seniority list with no credit for service as stewardesses; the system thus relegated them to last choice in selecting schedules, susceptibility to involuntary transfer, and first to be laid off upon reductions in force. 12 To remedy the wage inequities, the District Court awarded female cabin attendants backpay 13 and enjoined NWA to pay them the same salaries received by pursers. 14

NWA also discriminated against female cabin attendants in several other terms and conditions of employment, 15 but we need discuss only two. After 1964, male cabin attendants were provided with single rooms on layovers but female cabin attendants were paired in double rooms. 16 While, pursuant to collective bargaining agreements, company policy ostensibly was to require all cabin attendants to share double rooms, 17 it was enforced only with respect to women. 18 Moreover, a 1970 bargaining contract afforded to male cabin attendants a uniform-cleaning allowance of $13 per calendar quarter but offered female cabin attendants no such allowance. 19 The District Court granted the disadvantaged cabin attendants backpay to compensate for the deprivation of single-room occupancy and cleaning allowances, 20 and the injunction commands NWA to furnish single rooms on layovers and quarterly uniform-cleaning allowances to all cabin attendants. 21

B. The Initial Appeal

When, in Laffey I, 22 this litigation earlier was before this court, we affirmed the District Court's ruling that the wage discrimination flowing from NWA's policy of classifying men as pursers and women as stewardesses infringed both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. 23 We also upheld the stipulations of the District Court's injunction directing NWA to furnish female cabin attendants with single rooms on layovers and a quarterly allowance for cleaning uniforms. 24 We reasoned that since NWA regularly supplied lodging to its employees the costs thereof constituted wages under the Equal Pay Act, 25 and consequently that "the provision of less expensive and less desirable lay-over accommodations to female employees than were provided to male employees" violated the Act. 26 Additionally, applying the Act's proscription on downward equalization, 27 we sustained the injunctive requirement that NWA afford female cabin attendants the same layover accommodations and cleaning allowances that their male counterparts had previously enjoyed. 28

We did not affirm the District Court's judgment in toto, however. We vacated three aspects of the court's remedial order 29 and also, in light of weight restrictions newly proposed by NWA, directed the court to reconsider a ban which it had imposed on weight standards. 30 We stated that "(i)f the present regulations, applied objectively and in good faith, pass muster under Title VII, the company will become entitled to a modification of this aspect of the injunction by the District Court." 31


NWA moved in the District Court for a modification of the 1974 injunction that would allow implementation of policies specified in a 1975 collective bargaining agreement respecting layover accommodations and the uniform-cleaning allowance. 32 That agreement merged all cabin attendants into one classification and placed them all on the purser salary scale erected in the 1973 union agreement. 33 The 1975 contract obligated NWA to furnish "lodging so that not more than two cabin attendants are assigned to one room," 34 and to fully replace selected uniform items for all cabin attendants in lieu of a cleaning allowance. 35 NWA contends that since it now extends equal treatment to all cabin attendants in its provision of layover accommodations and cleaning allowances, it is entitled to a modification of the 1974 injunction similar to the one we instructed the District Court to consider with regard to weight restrictions. 36 NWA further argues that the proposed changes would not constitute a downward equalization in contravention of the Equal Pay Act. 37

The District Court denied NWA's motion to modify, 38 in part because it found "no changed circumstances which would warrant modification of the injunction...." 39 Consonantly with its obligation to cleave to the legal concept of wages we expressed in Laffey I, 40 the court also concluded that NWA's "proposed modification would be contrary to (the District) (C)ourt's intent in formulating a remedy for the statutory violations in this lawsuit and would constitute a 'downward equalization' of benefits in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act." 41 The instant appeal ensued.


At the outset, we encounter a procedural objection to NWA's bid for modification. Appellees argue that the District Court's 1974 order was a final judgment, 42 and as such is alterable only if it meets the stringent requirements laid down in Civil Rule 60(b). 43 Since NWA assertedly failed to show changed circumstances of the type demanded by the rule, 44 they maintain that the District Court correctly denied the motion to modify. 45

We disagree with appellees' characterization of the 1974 order as one final in nature. 46 In relevant part the order provided:

Counsel for the plaintiffs and counsel for (NWA) shall meet promptly following the signing of this Order to establish procedures for determining the precise monetary amounts due to each employee pursuant to the provisions of this Order.... Any disputes as to entitlement or computation which cannot be resolved by agreement of counsel shall be referred to the Court for disposition. 47

An order is final only when the court has resolved all disputed matters before it and need take no further action save to execute the judgment. 48 The 1974 order did not meet this standard of finality because it left unadjudicated the calculations essential to ascertainment of the amount of backpay NWA owed each employee who was victimized by its Equal Pay Act and Title VII transgressions. 49 It follows that Rule 60(b) interposes no barrier.

Nevertheless, the District Court was entirely right in denying NWA's motion to modify the injunction since it had no power to reconsider issues laid to rest on an earlier appeal. 50 Our Laffey I decision...

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  • Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.
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