Senter v. General Motors Corp.

Decision Date01 March 1976
Docket NumberNos. 75-1264,75-1265,s. 75-1264
Citation532 F.2d 511
Parties12 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 451, 11 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 10,741 John SENTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Appellee, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Charles P. Pfarrer, Cowden, Pfarrer, Crew & Becker, Joseph P. Buchanan, Dayton, Ohio, Russell J. Thomas, Jr., General Motors Corp., Detroit, Mich., for General Motors Corp.

Ted W. Rice, Dayton, Ohio, for John Senter.

Before CELEBREZZE and PECK, Circuit Judges, and HARVEY, District Judge. *

CELEBREZZE, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a class action brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970). 1 Appellant John Senter appeals from the judgment of the District Court that his discharge from employment at General Motors' Inland Division was not in retaliation for filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination in Inland's promotional procedures. General Motors cross-appeals from the Court's finding that they had discriminated against minority employees by denying them equal opportunity for promotion. Our jurisdiction is based upon 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) (1970).

John Senter is a black male who was employed at General Motors Inland Division in Dayton from 1967 until his discharge in 1973. During his period of employment, he did not at any time occupy a supervisory position. While an employee at Inland he was a member of Local 87 of the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of America. In 1969, he was elected as an Alternative Committeeman authorized to represent employees in grievance procedures when the regularly elected Committeeman was not present in the plant. It was in this capacity that his troubles with Inland began. He apparently took his duties quite seriously and became involved in three disciplinary incidents.

The only incident which has any relevancy to this appeal occurred in June of 1970. On June 8, 1970, Appellant endeavored to present a "Group Grievance" on grievance forms provided by management. The grievance charged General Motors with discriminating against its minority employees in making promotions to supervisor. The grievance was not properly submitted and the foreman's response was to deny the grievance. Appellant was directed to withdraw the grievance and when he refused he was suspended. He subsequently withdrew the grievance and submitted another document entitled "Employee Grievance" on a plain sheet of paper. He was apparently induced to withdraw the first grievance on the assumption that his second grievance would receive attention. It did not. The District Court found that it received, at most, perfunctory attention and was dismissed as non-grievable. The District Court concluded that the disciplinary action taken against Appellant was in retaliation for his efforts to present a grievable issue of racial discrimination in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement then in effect. 2 Appellant was less successful in convincing the District Court that his suspensions and his discharge represented a pattern of retaliation for his complaint to the EEOC. 3

After exhausting the proper administrative remedies, Appellant brought a class action in the District Court seeking a permanent injunction restraining Appellee from denying him and other blacks the opportunity for promotion to supervisory positions because of their race. The class he sought to represent included himself and other blacks in non-supervisory positions who were qualified for supervisory positions and wanted such positions. At trial, the Court received a great deal of evidence, most of it of a statistical nature, detailing the operation and effect of Appellee's promotional system. The District Court concluded that the current promotional procedures at Inland, entitled Selective Training Education Affirmative Management or STEAM, were nondiscriminatory. 4 However, the Court also concluded that the system for making promotions prior to the inception of the STEAM program in 1971 had resulted in discrimination against black employees by denying them an equal and nondiscriminatory opportunity to qualify for promotion. 5

The issues on appeal may logically be divided into two categories: the first concerns Appellant's personal claims against Appellee, and the second involves the claims he seeks to raise on behalf of the class. General Motors has not challenged the District Court's finding that its June 1970 suspension of Appellant for refusing to withdraw his grievance was discriminatory. That is therefore not an issue on appeal. Morley Construction Co. v. Maryland Casualty Co., 300 U.S. 185, 191, 57 S.Ct. 325, 327, 81 L.Ed. 593, 597 (1937).

Appellant claims that the District Court erred in its conclusion that he had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his discharge from Inland violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (1970). After review of the record, we are convinced that the District Court's finding that Appellant's suspensions and discharge after June 1970 were not in retaliation for his continued protests against discrimination at Inland is supported by substantial evidence. Since the findings were not clearly erroneous this portion of the District Court opinion is affirmed. See Miller v. United States, 522 F.2d 386, 387 (6th Cir. 1975) (per curiam).

We now turn to an examination of the issues sought to be raised by Appellant on behalf of the class.


Initially, General Motors challenges Mr. Senter's standing to maintain this suit as a class action. Standing is a "threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2205, 45 L.Ed.2d 343, 354, 43 U.S.L.W. 4906, 4908 (1975). "In its constitutional dimension, standing imports justiciability: whether the plaintiff has made out a 'case or controversy' between himself and the defendant within the meaning of Art. III." Id. Generally, standing is not granted to vindicate the rights of third parties. See Tileston v. Ullman, 318 U.S. 44, 63 S.Ct. 493, 87 L.Ed. 603 (1943). Nor is it sufficient that a complaint assert a "generalized grievance." See Schlesinger v. Reservists Comm. to Stop the War,418 U.S. 208, 216-27, 94 S.Ct. 2925, 2929, 41 L.Ed.2d 706, 715 (1974). See also Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 106, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 1955, 20 L.Ed.2d 947, 965 (1968). A Plaintiff must allege "such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy" as to warrant his invocation of the federal court's jurisdiction. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663, 678 (1962). See also Warth v. Seldin, supra, 422 U.S. at 496, 95 S.Ct. at 2204, 45 L.Ed.2d at 353, 43 U.S.L.W. at 4908. The accepted test for standing is one of "injury in fact", 6 Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 151-54, 90 S.Ct. 827, 830, 25 L.Ed.2d 184, 188 (1970), and a court's jurisdiction may be invoked only where the complaint alleges that the Plaintiff himself has suffered "some threatened or actual injury resulting from the putatively illegal action . . . ." Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617, 93 S.Ct. 1146, 1148, 35 L.Ed.2d 536, 540 (1973). However, once an individual has alleged a distinct and palpable injury to himself he has standing to challenge a practice even if the injury is of a sort shared by a large class of possible litigants. See United States v. SCRAP, supra 683-90, 93 S.Ct. 2413, 37 L.Ed.2d 267.

This Court has taken a broad view of standing in Title VII actions. Tipler v. E. I. duPont deNemours and Co., 443 F.2d 125, 130 (6th Cir. 1971). See also Roberts v. Union Co., 487 F.2d 387, 389 (6th Cir. 1973). Cf. Blue Bell Boots, Inc. v. EEOC, 418 F.2d 355 (6th Cir. 1969). Standing for purposes of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended by Congress to be defined as broadly as permitted by Article III of the Constitution. See Rosen v. Public Service Electric and Gas Co., 477 F.2d 90, 94 (3d Cir. 1973); Huff v. N. D. Cass Co., 485 F.2d 710 (5th Cir. 1975); Hackett v. McGuire Bros., Inc., 445 F.2d 442, 446-47 (3rd Cir. 1971). See generally Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Ins., 409 U.S. 205, 209, 93 S.Ct. 364, 366, 34 L.Ed.2d 415, 419 (1972). Judge Gibbon in Hackett v. McGuire Bros., Inc., supra, aptly described the proper scope of the standing doctrine in litigation under Title VII:

The national public policy reflected . . . in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . may not be frustrated by the development of overly technical judicial doctrines of standing or election of remedies. If the plaintiff is sufficiently aggrieved so that he claims enough injury in fact to present a genuine case or controversy in the Article III sense, then he should have standing to sue in his own right and as a class representative.

445 F.2d at 446-447. Taking a broad view of standing in Title VII litigation is consistent with the clear weight of authority in other jurisdictions. See e. g. Hadnott v. Laird, 149 U.S.App.D.C. 358, 463 F.2d 304, 311, n. 21 (1972); Carr v. Conoco Plastics, Inc., 423 F.2d 57, 65 (5th Cir. 1970); Graniteville Co. v. EEOC, 438 F.2d 32, 36 (4th Cir. 1971). It is also in keeping with the unique enforcement structure of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which relegates much of the responsibility for vindicating the policies of the Act to private litigants. 7 See Williamson v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 468 F.2d 1201, 1204 (2d Cir. 1972); Jenkins v. United Gas Corp., 400 F.2d 28 (5th Cir. 1968). See generally Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Ins., supra at 409 U.S. 209-11, 93 S.Ct. at 366, 34 L.Ed.2d at 419; Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 390 U.S. 400, 88 S.Ct. 964, 19 L.Ed.2d 1263 (1968).

Of course, it is not sufficient that an aspiring class representative allege purely personal injury at the hands...

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