Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date20 July 1984
Docket NumberNos. 83-1033,83-1034,83-1167 and 83-1168,s. 83-1033
Citation740 F.2d 1071,35 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 508
Parties35 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 508, 27 Wage & Hour Cas. (BN 4, 34 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 34,540, 238 U.S.App.D.C. 400, 101 Lab.Cas. P 34,585 Mary Pat LAFFEY, et al., v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Appellant, Air Line Pilots Association, Non-Aligned Party. (Two Cases) Mary Pat LAFFEY, et al., Appellants, v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Air Line Pilots Association, Non-Aligned Party. (Two Cases)
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 70-2111).

Phillip A. Lacovara, Washington, D.C., with whom William R. Stein, Washington, D.C., was on the brief for Northwest Airlines, Inc., appellant in Nos. 83-1033 and 83-1167 and appellee in Nos. 83-1034 and 83-1168.

Michael H. Gottesman, Washington, D.C., with whom Robert M. Weinberg and Jeremiah A. Collins, Washington, D.C., were on the brief for Laffey, et al., appellees in Nos. 83-1033 and 83-1167 and appellants in Nos. 83-1034 and 83-1168. Julia Penny Clark, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance for Laffey, et al.

Before GINSBURG, BORK and STARR, Circuit Judges.



This Equal Pay Act-Title VII class action concerns the former practices of Northwest Airlines (NWA) with regard to the employment of cabin attendants. Women employed by NWA in the all-female category "stewardess" received less pay than men in the all-male "purser" category. In addition, NWA required female cabin attendants to share double rooms on layovers while providing single rooms to male cabin attendants; it paid male attendants, but not females, a cleaning allowance for uniforms; and it imposed weight restrictions upon females only. 1

The lawsuit challenging these practices commenced in the summer of 1970 and has been intensely litigated since its inception. District court adjudications were twice appealed at interlocutory stages; in response, panels of this court meticulously reviewed an extensive record. On November 30, 1982, the district court concluded all tasks within its charge and entered final judgment. NWA appealed and plaintiffs cross-appealed.

We affirm the challenged rulings in principal part. On the few points on which we do not uphold the district court's determinations, we specify, precisely, the required modification so that adjustments to the final judgment can be calculated without further adversarial contest. Our opinion thus serves as the court's closing chapter in this nearly fourteen-year-old controversy.

A. Prior Proceedings

Trial of plaintiffs' multiple charges of NWA violations of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 206(d) (1982), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e to 2000e-17 (1976 & Supp. V 1981) (Title VII), commenced in late 1972 and concluded in early 1973. In November 1973 findings and conclusions, Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 366 F.Supp. 763 (D.D.C.1973) [hereafter, 1973 Findings ], the district court determined that NWA had violated the law in each of the respects alleged in the complaint. Of dominant importance to the monetary relief awarded plaintiffs, the district court found that stewardesses and men serving as pursers performed substantially equal work. The purser/stewardess salary differential, the less desirable layover accommodations for women, and the cleaning allowance limited to men, were held impermissible under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII; the weight limits for women were declared unlawful under Title VII. In an April 1974 remedial order, Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 374 F.Supp. 1382 (D.D.C.1974) [hereafter, 1974 Remedial Order ], the district court decreed injunctive relief and specified back-pay computation formulas. Judgment pursuant to the April order was entered May 20, 1974.

Both sides appealed. In a painstaking opinion, released October 20, 1976, a panel of this court affirmed the district court "on all substantive questions of statutory infringement" and "uph[e]ld most but not all the [district] court's specifications on relief." Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 567 F.2d 429, 437 (D.C.Cir.1976) [hereafter, Laffey I ]. NWA's petition for rehearing and suggestion for rehearing en banc were denied September 8, 1977; its petition for certiorari was denied February 21, 1978. 434 U.S. 1086, 98 S.Ct. 1281, 55 L.Ed.2d 792.

When the case returned to the district court, in March 1978, NWA moved for relief from 1974 injunctive provisions, which had been stayed pending appeal and petition for certiorari, requiring it to furnish female cabin attendants single rooms on layovers and cleaning allowances for uniforms. The district court denied NWA's motion, and NWA appealed.

Again after careful review, on October 1, 1980, we affirmed the district court's order. Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 642 F.2d 578 (D.C.Cir.1980) [hereafter, Laffey II ]. In the process, we observed that the 1974 order, reviewed in Laffey I, did not qualify as a final judgment because the district court had not at that point completed its work and disassociated itself from the case. Id. at 583-84. We noted, however, that the 1974 adjudication, awarding extensive injunctive relief, was appealable of right under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1292(a)(1) (1982), and that "the permanence and pervasiveness of the order's injunctive provisions enabled review on the merits of all interrelated features of the order save those the District Court had reserved for future adjudication." Id. at 584 n. 49.

While clarifying that the 1974 district court adjudication was not a "final decision" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 (1982), we hastened to declare the district court "entirely right," Laffey II, 642 F.2d at 584, in declining NWA's request to modify the injunction; modification would have involved reopening issues already decided by that court and "laid to rest" when we affirmed the district court's directives in Laffey I. Id. at 584-85. We then stated with emphasis impossible to obscure that even if we were convinced of the error of a decision made on an earlier appeal in this litigation, we would adhere to the established "law of the case" absent extraordinary cause to depart from our precedent. Id. at 585-86. Pointedly, we cited the First Circuit's admonition against reconsideration "after denial of petitions for rehearing and certiorari." Id. at 585 & n. 58 (citing Legate v. Maloney, 348 F.2d 164, 166 (1st Cir.1965)).

The district court has now resolved all disputed matters in this protracted case. We approach the multiple issues raised by NWA and the three raised by plaintiffs mindful that "[i]f justice is to be served," Laffey II, 642 F.2d at 585, "[t]here must be an end to dispute." Id. (quoting Legate v. Maloney, 348 F.2d at 164, 166 (1st Cir.1965)).

B. Issues on Appeal

We indicate here the order in which this opinion discusses the issues raised by the cross-appeals, and state, summarily, our disposition as to each issue.

1. NWA's Appeal

a. Alleging supervening Supreme Court decisions, NWA asks us to overturn i) the root determination that the purser/stewardess pay differential was based on sex, and ii) the already twice-reviewed determination that the cleaning allowance for men but not women discriminated impermissibly on the basis of sex. Discerning no clear change--indeed no change at all--in the governing law, we adhere to the law of the case on both issues.

b. Asserting a flaw in the determination that stewardesses and pursers performed "equal work," double faults in the measurement of backpay, oversights in the delineation of the Title VII class, and error in characterizing the Equal Pay Act violations as "willful," NWA urges alteration of prior dispositions on these questions. In view of the full and fair opportunity NWA had to litigate these issues in the district court and on appeal in Laffey I, we hold that "the strong policy of repose," Laffey II, 642 F.2d at 585, precludes consideration of NWA's earlier rehearsed arguments and more recent afterthoughts.

c. As to the Title VII back-pay accrual period, we adhere to the law of the case on the nonretroactivity of that statute's current two-year limitation. However, we modify the district court's specification of a three-year period borrowed from the District of Columbia's minimum wage law or general statute of limitations. Instead, we hold that, in the unique circumstances presented here, the time frame most appropriately borrowed is Minnesota's two-year limitation on "the recovery of wages ... under any federal or state law." Minn.Stat.Ann. Sec. 541.09(5) (West Supp.1982-1983) d. Reviewing the district court's award of liquidated damages under the Equal Pay Act, we conclude that guidance supplied in Laffey I was properly followed and sustain the determination in all respects.

2. Plaintiffs' Cross-Appeal

a. As to credit for service prior to the passage of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, Laffey I instructed only a "look at the collective bargaining agreement" on remand to determine whether "longevity" rather than "seniority" controlled. 567 F.2d at 476. Our opinion did not contemplate stripping plaintiffs of the pre-Act experience credits that the district court initially allowed them for the limited purpose of calculating the backpay NWA owed for post-Act service. Failure to accord plaintiffs longevity credit for all their days of service to NWA as stewardesses, in determining their post-Act pay level, would impermissibly project into the post-Act period a sex-based differential. We therefore reverse the district court's post-Laffey I ruling on this point and instruct that court to recognize plaintiffs' pre-Act longevity in calculating backpay for the relevant, post-Act, time periods.

b. As to interest, the district court properly declined plaintiffs' invitation to revisit the 1974 remedial order...

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