Movement for Opportunity and Equality v. General Motors Corp.

Decision Date10 June 1980
Docket NumberNo. 78-2314,78-2314
Citation622 F.2d 1235
Parties22 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1010, 22 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 30,863 MOVEMENT FOR OPPORTUNITY AND EQUALITY et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORP. et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

William D. Wells, NAACP, New York City, John O. Moss, Indianapolis, Ind., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Herbert C. Snyder, Jr., Indianapolis, Ind., Edwin G. Fabre, Asst. Gen. Counsel, Int'l Union, UAW, Detroit, Mich., for defendants-appellees.

Before FAIRCHILD, Chief Judge, SWYGERT, Circuit Judge, and KUNZIG, * Judge.

KUNZIG, Judge.

This case involves two major issues, jurisdictional and proof of discrimination, which surround allegations of racial and sexual discrimination at General Motors' Allison Division plant in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to the preliminary jurisdictional issue, there is a second threshold problem concerning the appropriate statute of limitations. In a lengthy and thorough decision, Judge Noland of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found that General Motors had not discriminated against either the individual plaintiffs or the classes they represent. Consequently, he denied declaratory, monetary, and injunctive relief under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (1976) and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (1976).

One threshold issue is jurisdictional. The problem involves the necessity of receiving a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in order to maintain an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976). We follow the Supreme Court's decision in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 39 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974) and hold that receipt of a right to sue letter is a prerequisite to the maintenance of suit under Title VII. A second threshold problem requires us to determine the appropriate statute of limitations under Indiana law for the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (1976). Here, we follow our decision in Hill v. Trustees of Indiana University, 537 F.2d 248 (7th Cir. 1976), and agree with Judge Noland that a two-year statute of limitations is appropriate.

The second major issue for discussion involves the manner of proving discrimination through the use of statistics under Title VII and section 1981 for the class actions. We consider that the district judge properly relied on defendants' statistics showing the flow of people by race and sex into and within the work force rather than plaintiffs' statistics concentrating on specific instances in time when an artificial discrepancy occurred.

To the extent not inconsistent with the following, the court adopts Judge Noland's Memorandum of Opinion and attaches it (with the exception of certain portions not challenged on appeal discussing the claims of individual class members) as an appendix hereto. We feel it necessary, however, to analyze and clarify in an abbreviated manner our position on the above two major issues.


General Motors Allison plant engineers, manufactures and assembles aircraft, diesel and locomotive engines. The total work force has fluctuated between 13,000 and 15,600 employees. The workers are divided into salaried and hourly employees. Ninety-six percent of the hourly workers are skilled or semi-skilled. Of the salaried work force, some seventy-five percent are professionals and some fifteen percent are clerical or office help. Numerous employees are represented in collective bargaining by Local 933, United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

In 1973, nine minority and women employees filed suit against General Motors (GM) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (1976) and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 alleging racial and sexual discrimination in GM's employment practices. 1 Specifically, plaintiffs charged GM with employment discrimination in the areas of hiring, job assignment, rates of pay, entry into skilled trades, transfer and promotion in union-covered jobs, and promotion to supervisory and managerial positions. As to the union defendants, 2 plaintiffs charged them with violating Title VII and section 1981 both for permitting GM to engage in discrimination and engaging in collective bargaining which denied plaintiffs equal opportunity. Plaintiffs sought declaratory, monetary and injunctive relief.

Judge Noland held that neither GM nor the unions discriminated against either the named plaintiffs or the classes they represented. As stated above, we agree with the district court. Furthermore, we note that plaintiffs only dispute the legal standards applied and not the specific findings of fact.

Initially, the lower court had to determine the relevant time frame within which to analyze plaintiffs' claims. The court determined that a right to sue letter was required under Title VII and that a two-year statute of limitations applied as to section 1981 claims. Under discussion in our first section will be the legal standards applicable to these jurisdictional issues.

Judge Noland then had to determine which classes to certify under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a). He properly certified five classes. (See appendix, Part II, infra.)

The district judge also determined correctly the standards of liability for defendants' alleged misconduct. 3 (See appendix, Part III, infra.)

Remaining problems concern proof of discrimination. Our difficulties here deal with plaintiffs' class claims which largely involved statistical proofs by both parties. 4 As to the appropriate use of statistics, we feel defendants' figures showing a flow over time are more appropriate. This will be discussed more fully in our section II.


The two threshold problems are of paramount importance because by determining whether a right to sue letter is needed under Title VII and the relevant statute of limitations for section 1981, we are thereby outlining the parameters within which to consider evidence of discrimination.

A. Title VII Right to Sue Letter

In the majority of Title VII claims before the district court, individual plaintiffs filed charges with the EEOC between 1970 and 1973. Thereafter, the EEOC issued right to sue letters based on those charges and plaintiffs brought suit in 1973. As to these claims, there are no jurisdictional problems.

The time period in question under Title VII in this court relates solely to the charges of discrimination in promotion and transfer of hourly workers. The individual employee and class representative for these claims is Beulah Wallace. She filed a charge with the EEOC on August 13, 1970 alleging racial and sexual discrimination in promoting and transferring hourly employees. Under that charge and subsequent right to sue letter, the appropriate time frame begins October 17, 1969. 5 That period for the individual representative of the class also controls the time period for the class. Romasanta v. United Air Lines, Inc., 537 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1975), aff'd sub nom. United Air Lines v. McDonald, 432 U.S. 385, 97 S.Ct. 2464, 52 L.Ed.2d 423 (1977); Bowe v. Colgate Palmolive Co., 416 F.2d 711, 720 (7th Cir. 1969).

Ms. Wallace, however, had also written the EEOC in 1966 to charge defendants with discrimination as to hourly workers in 1966. Plaintiffs argue that this earlier notification should be used to determine the time period for review. Obviously, if plaintiffs' argument were adopted, the time frame would extend back from 1969 to sometime in 1965-66. As with Judge Noland, we cannot agree with plaintiffs.

Congress has provided explicit jurisdictional requirements for Title VII in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (1976). As the Supreme Court has noted, plaintiffs here had to meet a two-part requirement in order to maintain suit against GM. First, plaintiffs must have filed a charge with EEOC. Second, they must have received a right to sue letter from the EEOC and acted upon it. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 47, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 1019, 39 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 798, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1822, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Choate v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 402 F.2d 357 (7th Cir. 1968).

As stated, there is no question as to the 1970 charge and subsequent right to sue letter conferring jurisdiction as of October 17, 1969. The difficulty with her 1966 charge is that Ms. Wallace only satisfied half the requirements. Plaintiff Wallace's 1966 charge can be considered to constitute a proper complaint filed with the EEOC. See Love v. Pulman, 404 U.S. 522, 92 S.Ct. 616, 30 L.Ed.2d 679 (1972). However, she never sought nor received a right to sue letter from EEOC in relation to these charges.

Plaintiff Wallace's failure to pursue the 1966 charges further with EEOC is similar to the neglect we held jurisdictionally fatal in Gibson v. Kroger Co., 506 F.2d 647 (7th Cir. 1974). In Gibson, we agreed with the D.C. Circuit's decision in Stebbins v. Continental Insurance Companies, 442 F.2d 843 (D.C. Cir. 1971), that Title VII claimants are under a duty to seek their right to sue letter if they wish to pursue their claim in the courts. 506 F.2d at 652. While we recognize that in special circumstances the claimant may be unable to seek the right to sue letter, and hence the strict requirements may be loosened, those circumstances would seem limited to instances where the claimant's failure is due to misleading acts committed by the EEOC, employer or union. See, Gibson, id. at 652; Choate v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 402 F.2d 357, 361 (7th Cir. 1968) (complainant should not be held liable for EEOC delay); Cf., Leake v. University of Cincinnati, 605 F.2d 255 (6th Cir. 1979) (employer's misleading); Dartt...

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