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U.S. Supreme Court

Emporium Capwell Co. v. Western Addition, 420 U.S. 50 (1975)

Emporium Capwell Co. v.

Western Addition Community Organization

No. 73-696

Argued October 22, 1974

Decided February 18, 1975*

420 U.S. 50


A union, after investigating complaints that the company with which it had a collective bargaining agreement was racially discriminating against employees, invoked the contract grievance procedure by demanding that the joint union-management Adjustment Board be convened "to hear the entire case." Certain employees who felt that procedure inadequate refused to participate, and, against the union's advice, picketed the company's store. The company, after warning the employees, fired them on their resumption of picketing, whereupon a local civil rights association to which the fired employees belonged (hereinafter respondent) filed charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under § 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere with an employee's right under § 7 to engage in concerted action "for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." The NLRB found that the employees were discharged for attempting to bargain with the company over the terms and conditions of employment as they affected racial minorities, and held that they could not circumvent their elected representative's efforts to engage in such bargaining. On respondent's petition for review, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, concluding that concerted activity against racial discrimination enjoys a "unique status" under the NLRA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; that the NLRB

"should inquire, in cases such as this, whether the union was actually remedying the discrimination to the fullest extent possible, by the most expedient and efficacious means,"

and that, "[w]here the union's efforts fall short of this high standard, the minority group's concerted activities cannot lose [their] section 7 protection."

Held: Though national labor policy accords the highest priority to nondiscriminatory employment

Page 420 U. S. 51

practices, the NLRA does not protect concerted activity by minority employees to bargain with their employer over issues of employment discrimination, thus bypassing their exclusive bargaining representative. Pp. 420 U. S. 60-70.

(a) The NLRA in § 9(a) recognizes the principle of exclusive representation, which is tempered by safeguards for the protection of minority interests, and, in establishing this regime of majority rule, Congress sought to secure to all members of the collective bargaining unit the benefits of their collective strength in full awareness that the superior strength of some individuals or groups might be subordinated to the majority interest. Pp. 420 U. S. 61-65.

(b) Separate bargaining is not essential to eliminate discriminatory employment practices, and may well have the opposite effect. Here, the grievance procedure of the collective bargaining agreement was directed precisely at determining whether such practices had occurred. Pp. 420 U. S. 65-70.

(c) If the discharges here involved violate Title VII, its remedial provisions are available to the discharged employees, but it does not follow that the discharges also violated § 8(a)(1) of the NLRA. Pp. 420 U. S. 70-72.

158 U.S. App. D.C. 13, 485 F.2d 917, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., wrote the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 420 U. S. 73.

Page 420 U. S. 52

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