Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date12 November 1973
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 2111-70.
Citation366 F. Supp. 763
PartiesMary P. LAFFEY et al., Plaintiffs, v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Michael H. Gottesman, and Dennis D. Clark, of Bredhoff, Barr, Gottesman, Cohen & Peer, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

Gilbert Feldman, of Kleiman, Cornfield & Feldman, Chicago, Ill., for Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Assn., Intern., Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, for a portion of the trial, for plaintiffs.

Henry Halladay, and David A. Ranheim, of Dorsey, Marquart, Windhorst, West & Halladay, Minneapolis, Minn., for defendant.

Karl W. Heckman, U. S. Dept. of Labor, appeared for portions of the trial; no evidence was presented by the Department of Labor.

AUBREY E. ROBINSON, Jr., District Judge.

The above-entitled matter came on for trial before the undersigned Judge of the above Court commencing on December 4, 1972, and continuing thereafter until January 10, 1973.

Based upon the oral testimony at trial, the designated deposition testimony submitted to the Court, exhibits introduced by both parties, and all of the files, records and proceedings herein, the Court being duly advised in the premises, in accordance with Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, makes and enters its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order for Judgment as follows:


1. The named Plaintiffs are or were female cabin attendant employees of Northwest Airlines, Inc. hereinafter "NWA" or "the Company", and this action has been certified as a class action on behalf of all NWA female cabin attendants employed at any time from July 2, 1965 to the present.

2. The Defendant, NWA, is an air carrier which was formed in 1926, and it currently maintains its corporate headquarters and main base at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota.

3. NWA first began passenger service between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago, and from 1927 to 1946, extended its routes to other cities in the continental United States. Virtually all of NWA's flights cross state lines, and it is engaged in interstate commerce. In 1947 NWA began scheduled service to the Orient, and since that date has increased the number of its routes within and without the continental limits of the United States. NWA has used various types of equipment to fly these routes over the years, including (1) propeller driven equipment DC-4, Stratocruiser, DC-6, DC-7 accommodating between approximately 25 and 100 passengers with a cabin crew complement of two or three, (2) jet equipment DC-8, 727, 720B, 707-320 accommodating between approximately 100 and 150 passengers with a cabin crew complement of five, and (3) the new wide-bodied jet equipment, including the 747 and the DC-10, carrying as many as 362 passengers with a cabin crew complement of as many as sixteen.

4. NWA's international operations are extremely competitive, much more so than its domestic operations. There is no significant market in NWA's international system that is not competitive with at least two or more international carriers. Most of these carriers are significantly larger than NWA and also have the competitive advantage of operating around the world, thus being able to carry through-traffic beyond the New York and Hong Kong termination points of NWA's system.

5. In a normal year not subject to the impact of a strike, NWA handles approximately seven million passengers producing gross revenues of approximately $450 million. This ranks NWA approximately seventh among the eleven trunk carriers in the United States. From 1968 through 1970, NWA lead all United States air carriers in annual net profits, earning between 44.5 and 51.5 million dollars per year. In 1971, NWA was second in net profits with nearly 21.5 million dollars, the drop being attributed to the effects of a labor strike in the latter part of 1970.

6. All cabin attendants employed by NWA between 1927 and 1947 were females classified as stewardesses. The company has continued to employ females in the stewardess classification up to and including the present time. In 1947, the Company established a cabin attendant classification of purser. From 1947 through June 15, 1967, the Company followed an express policy of confining the purser job solely to males. In 1949, the Company established a cabin attendant classification of flight service attendant (FSA), which has always been filled exclusively by males. The FSA classification was established when the Company began utilizing a plane called the Boeing Stratocruiser, which had a sunken bar lounge. The Company decided that a male cabin attendant should be assigned to the bartending function (as well as other cabin attendant duties) on this plane. Except for the cocktail service on this plane, FSA's were hired to perform the same duties that female stewardesses performed.

7. On December 17, 1946, the National Mediation Board certified Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association, International (hereinafter "ALSSA") as the duly designated collective bargaining representative of NWA's female cabin attendants. This certification subsequently was amended on October 22, 1948, to provide that ALSSA also was the duly designated representative of NWA's pursers, and again on June 20, 1950, to provide the same representative for NWA's male cabin attendants. On July 7, 1961, ALSSA having affiliated with the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, the National Mediation Board certified "Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association, International, Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO" as the duly designated representative of all cabin attendant and purser employees of NWA. In 1971 NWA's cabin attendants and pursers voted to replace ALSSA with Air Line Pilots Association, International (hereinafter "ALPA") as their representative, and the National Mediation Board so certified on September 17, 1971. ALPA has joined this action as a "non-aligned party."

8. At all times the membership of NWA's cabin attendant class or craft (including pursers) represented by ALSSA or ALPA has been predominantly female, so that females always have and still do possess a clear numerical superiority over males in the affairs of the class or craft and the union representative. The members are called upon to vote for their representatives within the internal union structure, to state their views and proposals in connection with collective bargaining, to ratify new agreements, and otherwise to participate in the process by which their rates of pay, rules and working conditions are established.

9. At all times from December 17, 1946 to date, NWA has entered into collective bargaining negotiations and agreements with the certified union representative, ALSSA or ALPA, pursuant to the mandate of and the procedures outlined in the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. The agreements have covered all United States-based cabin attendants and pursers, but not those based in the Orient and assigned exclusively to flights within the Orient "interport".

10. Since at least 1943, NWA has employed female cabin attendants as "stewardesses." In the first collective bargaining agreement, dates September 19, 1947, a "stewardess" was defined as:

. . . an employee who is responsible for the performing or assisting in the performance of all enroute cabin service, or ground service, to delayed or canceled passengers, and shall include the responsibility for the welfare, comfort, enjoyment and safety of the passengers, as prescribed by the Company regulations.

A salary was established for that position. The definition has continued to the present, and the salary has increased over time by union negotiation and agreement.

11. In 1947 when NWA obtained and began flying routes to and through the Orient see Finding 3, the purser classification was established. In the first collective bargaining agreement including pursers, dated January 1, 1949, the position of "flight purser" was defined as follows:

"Flight Purser" means an employee on the international division whose work includes performing and assisting in the performance of all enroute cabin service, attending to passenger comfort, responsibility for the preparation and completion of passenger, crew, and cargo manifests and other reports and documents as may be required by the Company or by law. A flight purser may be designated to perform necessary duties in connection with flight cargo operations, may be designated as being in charge of other cabin attendants, may be required to accept special assignments related to flight purser duties, and from time to time may be requested to participate in publicity and promotional assignments not in violation of any of the terms of this Agreement.

The definition of a "purser" has continued to the present time. A salary was established for the purser position at a rate higher than that for the stewardess position. The salary for the position has increased over time pursuant to union negotiation and agreement.

12. In 1949 NWA began hiring male cabin attendants as "flight service attendants" FSA's to fly particularly on the Boeing Stratocruiser aircraft. They were to perform essentially the same duties as female cabin attendants on those and other flights. Effective with the 1951 collective bargaining agreement, FSA's were included in the definition of "Stewardess" appearing in the earlier agreements, which was carried forward thereafter.

13. Beginning with the 1951 collective bargaining agreement and continuing thereafter to date, a combined purser-FSA seniority list was created by virtue of which FSA's began accruing seniority as pursers immediately upon commencing their duties as FSA's.

14. From 1951 until the June 15, 1967 collective bargaining agreement, FSA's had a contractual right to fill purser vacancies in seniority order. From 1951 on, as permanent vacancies in the purser position...

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