Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date08 September 1977
Docket NumberNos. 74-1791 and 75-1334,s. 74-1791 and 75-1334
Citation185 U.S.App.D.C. 322,567 F.2d 429
Parties13 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1068, 22 Wage & Hour Cas. (BN 1320, 12 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 11,216, 185 U.S.App.D.C. 322, 84 Lab.Cas. P 33,698 Mary P. LAFFEY et al. v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Appellant, Air Line Pilots Association, Non-Aligned Party. Mary P. LAFFEY et al., Appellants, v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Air Line Pilots Association, Non-Aligned Party.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Henry E. Halladay, Minneapolis, Minn., with whom William E. Martin, Minneapolis, Minn., and John L. Richardson, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for appellant in No. 74-1791 and appellee in No. 75-1334.

Michael H. Gottesman, Washington, D. C., with whom Dennis D. Clark, Robert M. Weinberg and George H. Cohen, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for appellants in No. 75-1334 and appellees in No. 74-1791.

Linda Dorian, Atty., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Washington, D. C., pro hac vice, by special leave of court, with whom Beatrice Rosenberg and Charles L. Reischel, Attys., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as amicus curiae.

Robert S. Savelson, New York City, and Donald J. Capuano, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for appellee Air Line Pilots Association. Glenn V. Whitaker also entered an appearance for appellee Air Line Pilots Association.

A. Andrew Giangreco, Alexandria, Va., and Samuel Borzilleri, Washington, D. C., entered appearances for appellee Transportation Workers Union.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and TAMM and ROBINSON, Circuit judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by ROBINSON, Circuit Judge.


Northwest Airlines (NWA) appeals from a judgment of the District Court 1 declaring certain of its personnel policies violative of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 2 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 3 and granting injunctive and monetary relief. The principal practice in issue here is the payment to women employed as stewardesses of salaries lower than those paid to men serving as pursers for work found by the court to be substantially equal. Others are the provision to stewardesses of less desirable layover accommodations and allowances for maintenance of uniforms, and the imposition of weight restrictions upon stewardesses only. In varying respects and degrees NWA challenges findings of fact 4 and conclusions of law 5 on these matters, as well as the propriety of the remedial measures adopted. 6

On careful review of the extensive record on appeal, we sustain the District Court's adjudications on all substantive questions of statutory infringement. We also uphold most but not all of the court's specifications on relief. 7 Thus we affirm the judgment in part, vacate it in part and remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings.

A. Stewardess and Purser Positions

Between 1927 and 1947, all cabin attendants employed on NWA's aircraft were women, whom NWA classified as "stewardesses." 8 In 1947, when the company initiated international service, it established a new cabin-attendant position of "purser," 9 and for two decades thereafter adhered to an undeviating practice of restricting purser jobs to men alone. 10 In implementation of this policy, NWA created another strictly all-male cabin-attendant classification "flight service attendant" to serve as a training and probationary position for future pursers. 11 NWA has maintained a combined seniority list for pursers and flight service attendants, on which seniority as pursers accrued to flight service attendants immediately upon assumption of their duties as such, and a separate seniority list for stewardesses. 12 From 1951 until 1967 flight service attendants had a contractual right to automatic promotion to purser vacancies in the order of their seniority. 13

It was not until 1967, when a new collective bargaining agreement was negotiated, that stewardesses first became contractually eligible to apply for purser positions. 14 During negotiations on the issue, NWA, for both the 1967 agreement and another in 1970, rejected an additional union proposal that stewardesses, like flight service attendants, be allowed to progress to purser slots according to seniority, stating that the company "prefers males and intends to have them." 15 The company has also insisted upon the right of "selectivity" in choosing which stewardesses might become pursers, and has imposed other restrictions on stewardesses seeking purser vacancies which had not previously been laid on flight service attendants. 16

Company policy had been to fill purser openings by hiring "men off the street" and training them for a short time, after which notices of purser vacancies would be posted. 17 Following the 1967 collective bargaining agreement affording stewardesses access to these jobs however, NWA hired five male purser-applicants without ever posting notices of the vacancies. 18 In 1970, after three years of ostensibly open admission purser status, NWA had 137 male cabin attendants all as pursers and 1,747 female cabin attendants all but one as stewardesses. 19

The sole female purser at that time was Mary P. Laffey, who bid for a purser vacancy in 1967, after nine years' service as a stewardess. 20 Although that purser position was scheduled to be filled in November, 1967, processing of her application was delayed assertedly for the reason that NWA needed to administer new tests to purser applicants. 21 These tests had never previously been used in selecting pursers, and during the interim between Ms. Laffey's application and her appointment NWA hired two male pursers without benefit of any tests. 22 Finally, in June, 1968, Ms. Laffey became a purser, but was placed on the bottom rung of the purser-salary schedule and received less than her income as a senior stewardess. 23

B. Stewardess and Purser Duties

On this appeal, NWA does not challenge holdings by the District Court that Title VII was violated by NWA's refusal to hire female pursers. 24 Rather, the appeal focuses primarily on whether the payment of unequal salaries to stewardesses and pursers, while occupying positions as such, implicates Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. The purser wage scale ranges from 20 to 55 percent higher than salaries paid to stewardesses of equivalent seniority. 25 The Equal Pay Act 26 forbids this pay differential unless greater skill, effort or responsibility is required to perform purser duties. 27 Title VII 28 likewise proscribes inferior sex-based compensation plans for women and, additionally, extends its protection to ban conditions of employment imposed discriminatorily upon women employees. 29

(1) Flight Assignments

In gauging whether NWA's pursers and stewardesses performed equal work, the District Court analyzed in great detail NWA's flight operations and its usage of the three different categories of cabin attendants. NWA flies diverse itineraries, which affect the type of personnel assigned to the flight, and which are categorized by particular terminology. In brief, "pure domestic commercial flights" are regularly-scheduled commercial flights which begin and end in the United States, and do not continue to the Orient. 30 Other commercial flights originate in one city in the United States, fly to an intermediate destination in the United States, and then on to the Orient; and the intra-United States portions of such trips are known as "domestic segments of international flights". 31 "Transpacific commercial flights" are regularly-scheduled flights between Anchorage, Seattle, Honolulu and Tokyo; while "commercial interport flights" are regularly scheduled flights between Tokyo and other Asian cities. 32 "Military air charters" are flights contracted with the United States Government to provide regularly-scheduled military air charter service. 33

Pure domestic commercial flights are, with some exceptions, 34 served exclusively by stewardesses and flight service attendants. 35 Pursers are ordinarily utilized on interport flights, transpacific commercial flights, domestic segments of international flights, and on all types of charters, military or otherwise, including pure domestic flights. 36 Since 1967, the company has also maintained a crew of stewardesses with proficiency in one or more foreign languages, who are assigned to certain international flights. 37

NWA schedules a different cabin-attendant crew on each flight segment; one crew will fly the domestic segment, another will take over for the transpacific link, and still a third is used on the interport portion. 38 Pursers and stewardesses bid separately, according to seniority, for monthly schedules. 39

(2) Overall Evaluation

Probing beneath the different titles, bidding schedules and salaries, the District Court made extensive factual findings comparing the work actually done by pursers and stewardesses, and held it to be essentially equal when considered as a whole. 40 For example, pursers are assigned to the first-class section of the aircraft, which has a smaller passenger load per cabin attendant and a correspondingly more leisurely work pace as compared with the chores inherited by stewardesses assigned to the tourist-class section. 41 The hourly work load also tends to be greater on the "short hop" domestic schedules than on the longer international flights. 42

Duties performed do not differ significantly in nature as between pursers and stewardesses. All must check cabins before departure, greet and seat passengers, prepare for take-off, and provide in-flight food, beverage and general services. 43 All must complete required documentation, maintain cabin cleanliness, see that passengers comply...

To continue reading

Request your trial
361 cases
  • Grove v. Frostburg Nat. Bank
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • April 22, 1982 wilful if the employer knows or has reason to know, that his employees are subject to the Act. E.g., Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 567 F.2d 429, 459-62 (D.C.Cir. 1976); Brennan v. Heard, 491 F.2d 1 (5th Cir.1974); cf. Spagnulo v. Whirlpool Corp., 641 F.2d 1109 (4th Cir.1981) (apply......
  • Kouba v. Allstate Ins. Co., Civ. No. S-77-99 LKK.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • September 18, 1981
    ...the Equal Pay Act. See, e. g. Hodgson v. Brookhaven General Hospital, 436 F.2d 719 (5th Cir. 1970), and see Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 567 F.2d 429 (D.C.Cir.1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1086, 98 S.Ct. 1281, 55 L.Ed.2d 792 (1978); Brennan v. Victoria Bank and Trust Company, 493 F.2......
  • Bickley v. University of Maryland
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • November 16, 1981
    ...of section 6(d)(1), entitling her to a three-year period of limitations. 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). See, e. g., Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 567 F.2d 429, 458-62 (D.C.Cir.1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1086, 98 S.Ct. 1281, 55 L.Ed.2d 792 (1977); Hodgin v. Jefferson, 447 F.Supp. 804, 809 (D.M......
  • Crump v. U.S. Dept. of Navy
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • September 8, 2016
    ...persistent process of illegal discrimination that antedated the limitations period.' " 715 F.2d at 979–80 (quoting Laffey v. Nw. Airlines , 567 F.2d 429, 472 (D.C.Cir.1976) ). Plaintiff's citation to Marinelli v. City of Erie , 25 F.Supp.2d 674, 679 (W.D.Pa.1998), is equally unpersuasive be......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Workers' Compensation, the Ada and the Fmla: the Ten Questions Most Commonly Asked by Colorado Employers
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 24-10, October 1995
    • Invalid date
    ...Lawyer (Sept. 1993) at 1851. 10. 29 U.S.C.A. § 791 (1993). 11. 29 C.F.R. § 825.702 (1995); see also Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 567 F.2d 429, 445 (D.C. Cir. 1976). 12. EEOC Technical Assistance Manual, supra, note 7, Chap. IX at 2. 13. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(8) (1992); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2......
  • Chapter § 1-77 29 CFR § 825.702. Interaction With Federal and State Anti-Discrimination Laws
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Maslanka's Texas Field Guide to Employment Law Title Chapter 1 The Family and Medical Leave Act
    • Invalid date
    ...when remedies coincide a claimant may be allowed to utilize whichever avenue of relief is desired (Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 567 F.2d 429, 445 (D.C. Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1086 (1978)). (b) If an employee is a qualified individual with a disability within the meaning o......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT